A panorama inside the building Ellie couldn't find
In this blogposting...
* La vie en France: Noël V
Carry on regardless
Sometimes, the postings which generate Comments on the blog have already been superseded by a new posting by the time I respond to the Comments (if you get my drift). This means that I’m not always sure that you’ve seen - or are even aware of - my responses.
So from now on, I’ll try to make it my business to respond to your Comments within the blog itself.
Which is just as well, because there have been some interestingly diverse Comments left on the blog recently. I’ll reply to a few of them now….
Thanks for your kind comments about my narrative writing style. I promise not to get too big-headed though. I know perfectly well that I have several thousand miles to go before I can even join the queue to tie Bill Bryson’s bootlaces.
As for your missing the informal New Year’s Eve muster….Well, along with almost everyone else, I was aghast - nay, discumknockerated - to read that you couldn’t find the Grainger Market. Where on Earth were you looking?
Thanks for the info about the Berne gauge on Continental railways. It didn’t occur to me that their trains could be wider, and thus roomier, simply because adjacent tracks are further apart.
From what I heard on the radio today about the new HS2 line between London and Birmingham, this distancing of up and down tracks also means that trains can go much faster because they aren’t affected so much by each other’s tailwinds. Is that true?
I have to admit that I love watching ‘silver streak’ French TGVs hurtling through the countryside. They seem so much more like a dramatic and exciting adornment than an environmental menace. Gorgeous.
The question, however, remains. If the Berne gauge was available for the UK to adopt along with the rest of Europe - and so long ago - why didn’t we adopt it?
I’m really sorry to hear that Gillian had a few problems over the holiday. Please give the bonny lass a hug from all of us - and keep us posted about how she is.
Thanks for all the advice about the many routes I could take to get to Beaujolais.
Sometimes, when I’m online searching for the cheapest flights and fares, I begin to think I’m going gently and irrevocably insane, especially as the least expensive method involves meshing a flight with a cross-Paris journey and then a train (of the type whose praises I sang above).
Or could I travel to Edinburgh and then fly to Lyon? Or maybe (as you say) a flight to Geneva and then a train north? Or maybe I could go by train all the way from Newcastle…
My nickname for the entire evening I have to devote to arranging a trip to Beaujolais is ‘Solpadeine Night’.
Finally, I’m sorry to have to tell you that Le Cosy pizzeria in St Georges de Reneins has closed its doors and departed to the Great Pizza Box in the Sky. We had a pizza from there once and it wasn’t bad at all….
LA VIE EN FRANCE / LIFE IN FRANCE
NOËL / CHRISTMAS - PART FIVE
You may be wondering whether I was an entirely - and uncharacteristically - passive presence at the French family Christmas celebrations I attended.
To be honest, I thought a lot about how I should behave even before I set out from Newcastle. As we’ve already seen, the way different nationalities mark Christmas can be highly idiosyncratic, to say the least; and I was genuinely inclined to want to simply observe, as a self-interested bystander, the way that Serge’s family did it.
On the other hand, my own family’s traditions are very strong and I didn’t want to feel too alienated from them at what was a sensitive time of the year for us. So - being thoroughly English - I struck a compromise. I decided I would take a few reminders of home with me to keep me company and to show off to my French hosts.
After all, just as I was curious about how the French celebrate Christmas, so they must be curious about how we do it here.
So, along with the shirts, socks and kecks in my suitcase, I took some party eye-masks, paper crowns, false moustaches (£3.99 for six from WHSmith) and a good quality Christmas Pudding. I also had the silly hats from our AGM with Kev - see posting 326.
The masks, crowns and moustaches made a very brief appearance at Chantal’s house on Christmas Eve - and then disappeared, never to be seen again. The unbridled joy they added to the proceedings can be seen from the photograph.
Serge's brother-in-law Patrick, his nephew Nico - and the man himselfHowever….the fact that there are photos at all is something of a coup. Let me explain…
I know very well of the dangers inherent in stereotyping people - especially whole nations. 60 million people cannot possibly all be alike in their reactions, sentiments and thoughts.
Er….having said that...
Even a little smoke always suggests to me that there may be a little fire lurking there, too. Several purely anecdotal conclusions can, for example, be drawn from the fact that almost half of all Americans don’t have a passport.
And anyway most stereotyping is merely harmless leg-pulling - like suggesting that all gay men are mincing window-dressers or that CAMRA members are all bearded, be-cardiganed sandal-wearing Guardian-reading geeks.
None of which is true…
A little stereotypical fun-poking is, surely, inevitable anyway. And, as long as it stays that way and doesn’t lead to hatred, distrust or even worse, it’s also a good way of ‘letting off steam’ - as Bob Monkhouse did to such awesome effect with the French.
So is it really true (I thought to myself after Chantal’s ‘do’) that the French hate to be made to look silly?
Yes, it is.
It has always struck me that, individually and as a nation, the French loathe looking inadequate or daft. The communal English sense of self-mockery is almost entirely absent in France. Anyone who is perceived to lower France’s self-esteem or image - as some think Sarkozy has done - is condemned to peculiarly virulent ridicule and sarcasm.
The only satisfactory way to look foolish in public in France is to actually be a fool; to be a clown. French people laugh like drains at performing clowns - huge shoes, big baggy pants, painted faces, daft hair, slapstick and banana skins. It’s OK to laugh at them because they are ‘officially‘ clowns; it is their job to make us laugh.
Asking an ordinary homme dans la rue to behave, or look, silly is another matter entirely.
The real reason why so many French people refuse to speak English is not that they are smug or arrogant or insular. The French are none of these things. They are reluctant to speak English because they are reluctant to look foolish.
And that’s why these photographs are a coup. And that is also why almost everyone in them will never speak to me again….
As for the Christmas Pudding….
I had naturally imagined sticking a twig of holly into it, dousing it in brandy, setting it alight and ‘piping’ it around the house, as we used to do years ago. Then I would proudly carve it up, drench each slice with crême anglaise (the watery French version of custard) and watch as everyone eagerly devoured a little bit of an English Christmas.
But I am a stereotypical daydreaming Englishman.
I ate as much of it as I could in private and fed the rest to the hens.
There are some things you simply cannot ask a French person to do…
When the aeroplane taking me home was about halfway across the North Sea between Amsterdam and Newcastle, the pilot announced that he was expecting some slight turbulence ahead and that we should all stay seated and belted.
Nothing much happened.
And then, about 20 minutes from home, he announced that there was ‘a slight westerly breeze‘ over north-east England.
This turned out to be a comforting under-statement.
There were howling gales, gusting up to 70mph, over north-east England. Trees were being blown down, satellite dishes from Amble were ending up in Coxhoe, people battened themselves down on their sofas.
And we were coming in to land.
The view from the windows kept changing dramatically because the aircraft was going up and down as well as side to side and left to right to left. I gripped the arms of my seat and wished I’d listened to the safety instructions. The plane was wobbling and bouncing and yawing.
The tension in the cabin was palpable. I was in an aisle seat and the young bloke over the aisle from me was visibly petrified. I leaned over and touched his arm, smiled ineffectually and said ‘We’ll be OK, y’know. They’ve done this dozens of times. They know what they’re doing. We’ll be OK. Don’t worry…’
He looked at me strangely. ‘Aren’t you frightened?‘ he asked, with the merest hint of panic in his voice.
‘Me?‘ I said. ‘Me? Frightened? No. I’m fucking terrified’.
This blogposting is proof that, at each end of my Christmas holiday, I have KLM staff to thank for making the unbearable survivable.
THE WORLD: A TRUCKSHUNTER GEOGRAPHY
Please don’t forget that I’m now looking for as much oddball information as you can find about our next destination: Angola.
And a big Thankyou to those who have already sent in their contributions.
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