Friday 8th June, Vendredi 8 Juin 2012
Since arriving in France – this time ‘to live’ rather than as a tourist –
there have been many little initiations, or steps towards integration,
by degree. At first it was simply seeing my name on the letterbox that
was strange; having a fixed abode and a new life far from one with a
street number or road name – belonging to a ‘commune’, a local
community defined by a five digit postcode.
The most important ‘object’ in my life wasn’t a family heirloom but an
adaptor plug, which expanded to two: the items most essential in order
to fit in. I can liken my entire experience here to ‘always having to
adapt’ – although I am able to communicate there is not a direct line,
I still need to stop and think and translate at times. Watching a film
I have already seen in its original English version, I can never quite
grasp everything – all the nuances – without a ‘delay’ or portion
being lost. Yet each day brings a new word or expression to add to
my vocabulary, or even just a ‘new attunement’ as my ears suddenly
pick up something that I had never perceived, like the lyrics of a song,
that I actually understand – a light dawns as I realise that I have
reached a new level.
Major hurdles have already been overcome; my worldly goods arrived,
mostly intact, after a four month adventure on the high seas and
continental autoroutes. Driving on the right has become natural,
as has the instinct to look left first – a reprogramming has taken
place. I have a diesel manual, just like the cars I used to hire,
a Citroën, blending in with a departmental plate and the Carte
Grise necessary for change of ownership.
Each time something is achieved it is like a small victory – for the
overriding consensus here is that bureaucracy or ‘admin’ is difficult.
If a form is required it is in duplicate, certified, stamped,
witnessed and signed; there is an art to conducting affairs, that
requires a high degree of patience and ‘lateral thinking’ that allows
navigation within the ‘cadres’ of officialdom and beyond their boundaries
– finding a solution when everything seems impossible. It is easy to
lose heart, to give in to despair, and to be overwhelmed by the complicated
or regimented systems that represent centuries of laws, intended to
protect the state interests and the functioning of this enlightened
republic. Liberté, égalité et fraternité must be held up as the end
result, after any frustrating red tape has been snipped and cleared
from the table.
Today we celebrate the Pacs (or ‘le pacte civil de solidarité’),
strengthening the ties that loosely bind me to my French partner,
declaring the relationship officially and entering into a contract
affirming that we have created a new life together – that this is
now my chosen home and that I am well on the way to fitting in
to this way of life, in the South.
My wardrobe proves it, the ‘talons’ or high heels that propped me
up in my city life in Sydney are gathering dust, in favour of comfort,
as dictated by cobblestone streets, and the need to adapt to the heat.
Visits to the coiffure are undertaken with a new ease as trust replaces
the trepidation of change, just as gardening and hiking clothes have
swapped order, leaving ‘smart dresses’ in their wake. The pace here
is relaxed or ‘décontracté’ in comparison to ‘frenetically following
fashion’, for it is the sun that dominates in nature’s playground.
Harnessing the bounty of the earth is the priority as the tables are
turned and far from ‘down under’ or ‘au bout du monde’, I am now
‘Mediterranean’ in habits and customs. The ritual we obey is to raise
a toast to life each day – filling our plates with all that is good;
the abundance of produce that grows on our doorstep. Taking the
time to savour each bite – to enjoy, to discuss, to harness Nature’s
gifts – the ‘daily bread’ on which we all exist.