Monday, January 23, 2006

Magic places and nation states

My mates have been looking for a place to buy in Spain, and they visited somewhere at the weeknd. I was giving them some thoughts on the photos and description when these thoughts came up ...

It sounds like an incredible place, similar to this area in some ways. The generation gap is certainly a feature as people left to find work in Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand, keeping their parents' and grandparents' houses as they have passed on, and using them for holidays. I think the repopulation here is about 10 years ahead of Eljas though.

There's something magic about these places, and the village sounds fantastic; a link to the past, and to a pre-Nation State diversity that Spain certainly has, and maybe France has hidden for a while. I mean by that the cultural and linguistic diversity within a country's borders. We have grown up with this idea that our countries are monolithic, because that's how they are presented. But during the WWII period for large parts of the world, and continuously since then in 'pockets' it seems, (Yugoslavia for example) the indivisibility of the nation state as we have accepted it is not so obvious. Countries that can find a balance between the advantages of strong countries, (don't ask me what they are!) and the cultural diversity and local accountability of regionalism or federalism seem to me to have something special. Spain, Germany and the UK since devolution for example. And almost despite itself, France to some extent too.

It's another fascinating field of thought; I could live forever and still not have the time ...

Especially now, since I'm packing for another sojourn in Britain starting tomorrow for about ten days. The other half of my home and away lifestyle is about to kick in, and the build up always has an undercurrent of anxiety about it. Nothing serious you understand, but it builds. And my li'l lamb asks me why I have to go, and asks me not to. That's the hardest bit. So light posting, if any, until 5th February!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Putting my foot down in France

I've found quite a few ways of not settling professionally in France. Translations of my CV, leaflet and website into French was the foundation for a campaign targeting local authorities, development agencies and European-funded projects and project areas, (like Leader). Several dozen mailings later I got one invitation to tender. I tendered but didn't get the contract.

I went for an interview at the Chamber of Commerce in Le Puy, but decided not to follow that opportunity up after getting some 'not happy' vibes while there.

And an underlying 'all or nothing' approach to setting up as self-employed. To pay the tax and NI, you need a decent turnover, so there would be no point in starting if I haven't got a customer base.

Now I think I've found an alternative. With a few friends, I am going to set up an association that is dedicated to 'the cultures of the world'. We will be able to apply for grants for project ideas. I can work or volunteer, depending on my wishes and the project's needs. Haven't got a name for it yet. The first activities will be teaching English, especially to children and beginner adults. But the opportunities are endless - samba band, oral history, photography and so on.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The big party

My partner in crime is 21 this year. But a very big 21. If you get my drift.

So we're having a big party. She comes from a large family. Number 10 in a line of 14. And we've been having an annual round of big 21sts over the last few years. Just about everyone comes, and they all have families. And that's not even counting the very good friends, and my small but perfectly formed family. So we're expecting about 100.

And given the date is the 14th of August, we're booking things early. So we've got:

an invitation list;
a venue;
one band, blues;
some accommodation sorted.

We are still working on:

a particular group of friends, who play samba reggae;
more accommodation;
the wherewithal to do a spit roast - proving a bit tricky;

I am still working on:

that special present - I have ideas, but finding a way to do it and keep it secret is the challenge!

Looking forward to it already!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Decisions decisions

At 14 I didn't know what I wanted to do. The lucky amongst us have probably been following their chosen passionate path since they had a 'road to Damascus' experience at the age of 3 days! Sunday lunch with one of our neighbours covered many topics from the mundane to the esoteric. One that struck me was the current debate they are engaged in as a family about the future career of the daughter of the family.

I don't know about you but I found this torture enough at 14 in Wales in 1976. In fact i still don't know what career I want, but I gave up worrying about it a long time ago, and indeed have been celebrating this freedom for many years. In France it is so much harder. Every metier is coded, classified, tightly defined and immutable. The choice of metier puts you into a 10 year logical tube of further education and training. Escape is discouraged, hard, and requires another 10 year logical tube journey. How scary is that?

Now I may be exaggerating a bit, for clarity obviously, but this poor girl looks positively traumatised by the experience so far, and she seems a long way from making a choice. My 6 penn'orth was to describe my first three metiers, (not including all the school and holiday jobs of course - life is too short!). They were gardener, RAF navigator, and geography researcher. I tried to get across that finding something you love and really want to do is more important than anything else. And for most of us that means giving it a go. There are no wrong decisions. There's also the fact that, even in France, the idea of one life - one metier is rapidly disappearing. So even if a choice has to be made, it's only about the first metier, not for the rest of your life. Does that make it easier? I hope so.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The peace of freedom

So there was my French routine. Not the can-can, just my (week) daily activites. And how good it felt yesterday and today to depart from it. My partner in crime is in pain, and apart from my healing or at least comforting hands massaging her back, neck and head, which is already in the routine anyway, I was able to help her out with a number of things that would have been impossible or very painful. And I found time elsewhere to catch up on work. No problem. No stress. No conflicting work/life balancing decisions. Just the freedom to do it. This is what our life is about, and what has brought us through the milestones of the past few years to get here. And the future is more of the same, better and more enjoyable. I can't wait. I love it here!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Not a daily routine

My home and away lifestyle is in fact two lifestyles. I spend most of my time here in France, and a significant minority in the UK. They are worlds apart in terms of anything resembling a daily routine.

Here I get up around 6.30 or 7.00, shower and get the fire going. I'll set out breakfast for the gals while my partner in crime gets li'l lamb out of bed. We usually have good time for a chatty breakfast before the gals head off, one to the school bus and the other into the woods for a walk. I wash the dishes, chop some wood for the day and head up here to the office and start work about 8.30. We're taking it in turns to massage each other mid-morning since last week. (We both have knotted backs and shoulders.) So yesterday my turn, this morning her turn. Followed by a cup of tea and some more work.

Lunch sometime between 12 and 2.30, but not (usually) the whole 2.5 hrs. French TV lunchtime news usually has a lot of bits about rural parts of France, cultural and environmental as well as the main news, and that's great. Even in the winter, a quick coffee outside sets us up for some more time at the desk.

If it's quiet and sunny I might get out into the garden for an hour, and then finish off the afternoon here until li'l lamb gets back from school, or it's time to pick her up from after-school gym or judo or whatever. It's great to be able to be there when she gets in and pick up her experience of the day, spend some homework time together and then maybe a quick bike ride round the village or a game. Perhaps some more wood for the evening.

Back to the office for another hour before reading a bed-time story, and then dinner for two in front of the log fire. The evenings are variously reading, games, a film on TV sometimes, or we have a chatty dinner that goes on til bedtime. (This is especially the case in the summer season, when my partner in crime's been out earning a crust.)

It's a very balanced week too, I don't work much on Wednesdays, since there's no school, and so I spend time on English curriculum workbooks and following the questions with my lamb out into the garden, onto the web or wherever. One of her friends comes round every Wednesday afternoon for some English conversation with us too, and that's fun. Tomorrow we're making crepes, but only if the pupil can remember all the tools and ingredients we've been learning!

There's school on Saturday mornings, so I can get some more office time then if I need it. If not, it tends to be domestic time, cleaning, laundry that sort of thing.

The weekend is almost always spent with nearby friends or neighbours. We're chatting over the idea of opening up the little house I've been talking about, so that's the topic of conversation for now.

It's a very calm and relaxed routine, different from the summer, and very different from my UK time. I'm chilled most of the time, can choose when I work most of the time, and interuptions for an apéro are easy to accommodate and enjoy.

I love it!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Some philosophical help with (me) everyday life

A recent essay on Islam online resonated with my recent two geographies, decluttering and home and away thoughts and posts. This is an insightful easy to read essay that intorduced me to the idea of transmodernism. This idea offers a way of looking at traditional societies that does not limit them to the past or identify them as static and obsolete. To me it started to make some sense of the feelings among many in modern or post-modern western societies. These are that the rootlessness, the loss of principles and foundations, is not a price not worth paying for progress. Here Ziauddin Sardar describes another way, and this is the fun bit, that these losses constitute a price that doesn't have to be paid. Reading about this idea has given me something of a conceptual tool relevant to these recent thoughts, resolving my need to embrace roots, tradition, spirit of place and so on, AND be very much part of the modern world. Growth and progress is possible too. And I have found a little peace of mind as a result. The author, a cultural critic and Muslim scholar based in London, writes clearly and engagingly. Give it a go.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Staying a bit sane in the Massif Central

That's what it's about. And the challenge for me is somewhere around stripping away the padding built up over many years and yet renewing and creating new life and experience.

I've been having a declutter, and whenever there is more 'space' more ideas pop in to fill it up. Question. Are the new things different from the old things? Are they more padding or the real me bursting out onto the recently cleared decks? Are they more of what I should be doing or more of what I want to do? Or even more of what I want to be?

So that's a skecth of where I am today. Here in France, weighing up the new opportunities and ideas I've had. What are they? Which ones are really me?

A normal day at the office! My office window today looks west out over the village to the snow-covered hills of the Massif de Sancy. My garden is down below me, hard-frozen ground deciding what I can and can't do there today. Because after a bit of sketching out some pictures of these thoughts on paper, I'll be off out into this superb tranquil, stimulating, clean space to mull it all over. I have some interesting choices to make this year, and I really want to live me, not the padding. It's probably something to do with my age!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Party town

Looks like our village is shaping up to be a veritable party town this year. Everything being relative of course, and in this case I don't mean the village relative to Las Vegas, but the village this year relative to the village last year. And the year before. Maybe even the decade before. Well, we're having a party. And not only that, but I'm hoping a little seed sown over the past few days and weeks may turn into another sort of party.

Our party is for my partner in crime - big birthday landmark, but I'm far too polite to say which one. She is one of 14 children, and although not all will come, it's still a good start. Our bestest friends are already coming, and we will be sending out invitations to our other bestest friends soon. And, there's the WHOLE village too. All 17 of us. We plan to use a small field traditionally used for village parties, set up three spit roasts and a bar, and generate as much self-made music (high graphic link) as possible. Mid-August. If you're free.

The other little seed I hope will grow into something at La Beate, a place I talked about recently. We went to wish the two sisters a happy new year yesterday, and settled in for a natter and an apero, like you do. And I floated the idea that maybe, if they thought it was a good idea, and if a few other people were interested, maybe we could clean up and decorate the little house like they last did, during the month of May, and maybe have a couple of evenings there during the month. Perhaps it would be fun to do, sympa to be working together a bit, and share some stories and old photos. And they liked the idea. So we're going to mention it to a few other people, and see what happens. I might try and get hold of some kind of digital recording gizmo and record a bit as well as take some photos.

Already the idea has further possibilities. One of the sisters suggested trying to get some funds to restore the building properly. And one of the district nurses was keen on some kind of oral history project growing out of this first idea. She sees an impressive richess of wisdom and memory as she visits mostly elderly people all over the parish. Wonderful.

I'm not sure what I'll get up to amongst it all myself, but I hope it works out and I get to lend a hand and take some pictures. We plan to do it in May, so there'll be time to get the plans together and keep y'all up to date. Any tips on oral history projects? Or funding sources?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The big anticlimax

I know it sounds a bit unspectacular as a title, and really it's nothing like that ...

We've had a grand time over the holidays, big French family Christmas, intimate small family new year. But the highlight of my season was the 21st of December. There was a time I used to have a party then instead of Christmas. Christmas is now huge fun with a large extended family. New Year in Oban on the West Coast of Scotland cured me of most of my antipathy towards that event. And getting through two events in a week is about as much as I can cope with these days. (It's the age says my 8yr old li'l lamb.) Thanks!

Still, on 21st, I had my little triumph when the sun decided to show itself towards the end of the day, and I was able to mark the point of the setting sun with a couple of stakes in the garden. This means that I know where to put up my standing stone when the ground thaws out. I found this big stone while clearing part of the garden last August, and have had it in mind to raise it up. But you need to know where to put it so it has some connection, and the winter solstice was the first obvious opportunity. The stone raising could happen on 21st March, 21st June, or during the festivities planned for August. We might even start a trend in March and do all three!