Monthly Archives: October 2009

Frenchitude Lesson #54: Visit a Grave

In the name of all things Halloweenish and spooky (but let me just say, not as spooky as the H1N1 flu that has made itself at home chez Germain this week ) today’s Frenchitude will be about visiting graves.

All of our friends and family in France are currently off for the annual “Toussaint” (All Saint’s) vacation. Incorporated into this vacation is All Soul’s Day on November 1st, when it is traditional to go to the graveyard and leave flowers on the graves of your departed family members.

I have been reminded since returning to Canada that death and mortality are not exactly favorite topics here in the land of the fit and health conscious, and even in France I have observed over the past few years that the All Soul’s tradition has a serious demographic problem. The visitors to the graveyards tend to be from the older generations, and younger French people don’t seem to feel the need to leave flowers at the graves of their dearly departed.

I, however, am a fan for bringing back the All Soul’s tradition. First of all, I firmly believe that things like death become scarier when they are avoided and not talked about.

The whole visiting of the graves thing helps with this. One of my girls’ favorite places in Villers-la-Faye was the village graveyard, where they would leap and run about, tracing back their ancestors to their great-great-great grandparents. Graveyards can teach us a lot about ourselves and where we come from.

My girls have been brought up with stories of their Pépé Georges (Franck’s maternal grandfather) who died when Franck was ten. They knew he loved nature, so on the way up to the cemetery they would always find a special twig or pine cone and leave it on his grave. Visiting Pépé Georges in this way made the girls feel like they really knew him.

But even if they don’t contain any of your ancestors, graveyards are fascinating places.

In Villers-la-Faye, for example, the cemetery boasts a few stone coffins dating back to druid times, scattered around the 11th Century Roman built chapel on top of the Mont-Saint-Victor. It’s like an outdoor museum.

When in Italy we visited a lot of cemeteries. Italians have the whole thing figured out. Not only do the huge majority of Italian graves bear a photo of the deceased plus a little (or not so little) synopsis of their lives, but they also have little lights that light up at night making the graveyard a lively, living, social place. Even if no-one there is related to you, it is still fascinating to read how people lived, and how they died.

I dare hope that our time spent in European graveyards over the past five years has lessened my girls’ fear of death a little bit. They also took part in the three graveside services for their three French great-grandparents who passed away during the past five years.

The most memorable burial as far as my girls are concerned was the last one – the one for their beloved Mémé Germaine who died only five days before Clémentine was born. Franck and the girls had bought white roses to put on Mémé’s coffin, because Mémé had always loved the tear-jerker of a song “Les Roses Blanches” by Berthe Sylva .

Struck by graveside inspiration, Franck and the girls decided as Meme’s coffin was being lowered into the vault that each person present should take one of the white roses and throw it into her grave.

The girls still talk about the white roses that are now sealed for eternity with Mémé and they feel that she would have really liked that elegant and personal touch.

And I know already that Mémé’s grave will be one of the first spots they will want to visit when we return to Villers-la-Faye next summer.

De Grill From Sandwich Was Walking On Crunches

Camille at her first Terry Fox run (that’s a tattoo of Terry on her forehead). She is now a voracious supporter of the campaign to have Terry Fox’s Mom Betty light the Olympic Flame.

Charlotte and Camille are working so hard on improving their English and becoming not only little Frenchies, but real little Canucks too.

And I’m not helping them one bit.

For the first month of school Charlotte wrote “the” as “de” because that was simply how she heard the word in her head. Did I correct her?

No.

“My nem is Charlotte, I em de auldest of tree grills.”
translation = “My Name is Charlotte, I am the oldest of three girls.”

I ask you -which is cuter, the top sentence or the bottom one?

I rest my case.

She also talks very seriously of a girl in her class who broke her leg and has to come to school on “crunches”.

One of Camille’s good friends at school has to take the bus every morning from a local municipality called “Saanich“. Camille says, “Can you believe it? It takes 30 minutes on the bus to come all the way from Sandwich.”

Do I correct her?

No.

Instead, when she mentions this friend, I always pretend like I don’t know who she’s referring to just so I can hear her say, “You know Mom, the girl from Sandwich!”

Note Change To SideBar

Here we are encore. The day when – in the name of accuracy – I must go into my blog template and add a year to my age in the “About Me” section.

Poo. And Charlotte brought home an early B-day present yesterday – H1N1. Double Poo.

However, this day reminds me how damn lucky I am. I have my bevvy, my wonderful family, my beloved friends in Canada, France, and sprinkled over the rest of the globe, a job that I actually love, and for this year a bedroom with an ocean view.

And I also realized this morning that I have had the privilege of sharing my years here on earth with Franck for officially more than half of my life now.

I must have done something really right in a previous life.

Frenchitude Lesson #53: Cultivate Your "Jardin Secret"

Here I am in Surrey, British Columbia cultivating my secret garden.

Okay, Okay…I know if you are anything like me the mere mention of “secret gardens” probably makes you think of the title of a bad 1970’s X-rated film.

Sorry to disappoint mes amis, but the jardin secret I am referring to in this week’s Frenchitude Friday has no sexual connotation whatsoever. Rather, it refers to that special little area of your life that makes you feel like YOU.

Writing is my secret garden. When I write I don’t feel like a mother of three, or a vacation rental owner, or a bad housekeeper (although I am all of these things).

Writing makes me feel like ME.

It is something I do for myself and for myself only. It is a thing I have to do, because when I don’t write I start to feel like I am losing part of myself.

French take the cultivation of what they refer to without the teeniest blush as their “jardin secret” very seriously. I have found they tend to it with the same love, lack of guilt, and borderline obsession as all of the other pleasure -generating areas of their lives.

On the other hand I have found North Americans often feel guilty doing something merely because it is pleasurable. We insidiously introduce the pressure of performance into everything, thus robbing our jardins secrets of the very essence that makes then worth cultivating in the first place.

I have fallen victim to the above trap time and time again.

But this weekend I am back at the wonderful SIWC Writer’s Conference for the first time in five years, and my new-found Frenchitude has completely changed the way I approach these very special three days; I am here to shamelessly and joyfully enjoy writing, being with writers, and tending to my jardin secret.

This time around I’m devoting all my energies to the pleasure of writing rather than the performance of writing.

And you know what? The flowers in my garden have never been so ravishing.

The Most Important Word In English = Cookie

Clémentine’s first word was “ah-toe!” which meant gateau i.e. anything that is really yummy, from a piece of chocolate to a dust bunny found under the couch.

I was a little concerned when her talking slowed down for a couple of months after we moved back to Canada. However, now it is picking up steam again, but in both French and English this time around.

And what do you think one of the first words she mastered in English was?

“Cookie” bien sûr.

For Clem, this means for those people who speak English, “I want something really delicious to eat. Et tout de suite!”

As you can see above, a girl sometimes needs to get quite strident about her gateau / cookie demands.

Authentic France Travel Tip #49: Book Early, And Earlier The Longer You Stay

I just had to turn away a potential guest who wanted to rent the months of May and June 2010 at any one of vacation rentals in Burgundy.

This just kills me, as I really think long-stay guests are poised to get so much out of the their stay in France. Problem is once I’m booked, I’m booked. This for me is one of the most teeth-gnashingly frustrating aspects of managing vacation rentals.

Unless Franck can buy, renovate, and equip another vacation rental when he is in Burgundy for the three weeks in November (not going to happen) I just can’t accommodate them, and I would so love to accommodate them.

So, please people, if you are booking during the every-popular months of April to October and are booking for a month or longer, book as soon as is humanly possible. A year to a year and a half ahead of your planned trip is not too early…

Frenchitude Lesson #52: Get Obsessed About Good Chocolate

Thomas Haas caramel sea salt chocolate balls – eat them and weep…

Anyone who has ever read this blog will surely know about my most sacred daily after lunch ritual of a good cup of coffee and some truly delicious chocolate.

If I have to miss this ritual I go around for the rest of the day feeling disgruntled and unsatisfied. Pas très jolie, let me tell you.

Go into any supermarket in France and you will see that during the past 5 years I was spoiled for choice as far as good chocolate was concerned. This was fortunate, as at least 25% of the conversations between my friend Charlotte and I consisted of comparing, debating the merits of, and recommending new chocolate finds.

I felt not one iota of guilt about such a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, because as any French person will tell you PLEASURE IS SERIOUS BUSINESS AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT.

Happily, I have found my chocolate quest is equally as satisfying here in Canada. I have discovered the LindtEquador” and “Peru” chocolate bars, which are the perfect partner to coffee with their bitter, spicy chocolatude.

My little sister also introduced me to (cue angels singing) Vancouver’s chocolate maker Thomas Haas, who has created such divine things as ginger chocolates and (be still my beating heart) sea salt caramel chocolate balls. I dream about these, and am planning my next trip to Vancouver around buying some.

So be French (or Canadian) about your chocolate – accept only the best.

La Fete du Vin Bourru

It’s that time of year again! On October 24 & 25th head to Nuits-Saint-Georges for “La Fete du Vin Bourru” (“Vin Bourru” is the “new” wine from the September harvest that is half fruit juice / half wine).

It is two days of festivities from 10am to 7pm with winetasting, food stands, musical interludes, and a whole lot of Burgundian fun.

David Letterman Should Move To France

Franck and I were watching the news last night (something we rarely do, and an experience that I am not particularly eager to repeat) and there was a clip of David Letterman apologizing to his wife and his staff.

Franck, who seems to take me for the household expert in Pop Culture, asked me what it was all about.

“He’s was being blackmailed by people because he slept with some women on his staff.” Keep in mind I only have the vaguest idea, gleaned half-hazardly from the Internet, what this brouhaha is all about.

“How could he possibly be blackmailed for that?”

“Well…because he’s married, I guess.”

“Nobody could ever blackmail a TV star for that in France.” Franck watched David’s moment of squirming contrition in wonder.

I thought for a moment. “How about if he didn’t sleep with any women on his staff and remained faithful to his wife, could a TV star in France be blackmailed for that?”

Franck nodded. “That might work.”