21 September 2014

What a week of political turmoil! Thursday night the Queen went to bed not knowing whether she'd have a PM when she woke up. Was she singing:'They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace; Cameron down with Scottish malice?' But Friday morning, sense prevailed. Whew. And in France, with the President's ratings so low they're off the scale, he's tried to raise his own standard by punching above his weight abroad - allying with the US in bombing ISIL.  He must have thought 'that'll do it. Now I'm a global superstar, the French are sure to love me again.'  But no. Along comes Sarko to spoil his plans yet again by arriving - some would say in the nick of time - to spoil Hollande's plans by throwing his hat in the political ring again.  You can hear the cheers from French business everywhere and, it must be said, to beleaguered home-owners throughout the land.  Sarko may have his annoying bling, but at least he has charisma and that indefinable je ne sais quoi which might just lift French confidence and the economy again.  Let's hope so. One week's a long time in politics.

14 September 2014

Wasn't it Bros who sang When will I, will I be famous? Thought my time had finally come when I received an email from the Producer of BBC's Escape to the Continent programme:  '.. I have read your blog, which seems to be a brilliant source of information for those who wish to move to France and I was hoping to talk to you to see if you would be able to chat to our house-hunter on camera about life living in France.' However, rejection was just around the corner in the form of 'scheduling constraints'. Story of my life! So, I watched a few programmes and was struck by the mistakes being made - not in the glossy production but in the whole tenor, so here's what I told her:  '..not sure you are correctly focused on who your intended audience is....comes across as a holiday destination or somewhere to buy that second home in the sun. If it's intended purely for people planning a permanent move to another country - which I believe it is - then: 1. Include important websites on health care, English-speaking notaires in the area, tax info. etc.; 2. In France it is essential to have completed the sale of your English property BEFORE making an offer on the French one. So, ascertain this has happened BEFORE making the programme; 3. Include the living costs per month. Too much emphasis on capital, not enough on required income. Is intended gite income realistic? France is saturated with gite properties. 4. New property must have broadband - essential to transfer funds, communicate etc. Don't close that British bank account - opening a new one in the UK is impossible without a UK address! 5. Absorb the continental view: summer heat requires you to keep the place dark and cool - not with 'lots of light'. 6. Integrate and learn to speak the language, but still look for some English friends nearby (to keep you sane).S'pose I should record my own song 'Never will I, will I be famous, but still I can pack a literary punch!'  

7 September 2014

World news is full of Obama's visit to Stonehenge, a structure transcending man's struggles since time immemorial. Nearer to home, several weeks ago French news was full of a battle between two neighbours in the village of Brugairolles in the Aude. Newsworthy because the combatants were not French, but English!  The 10-year dispute revolved around privacy and access, one house's front door and window overlooking the driveway of the other. When you buy a house in France, the notaire is expected to explain all such things, which left me wondering.  When we bought our first French house back in 2005, the notaire didn't speak a word of English. I, foolishly, thought my French was sufficient. It wasn't until we bought our current home, with a bi-lingual notaire, that I realised.  At every stage, she helpfully explained in English the various nuances and potential problems - absolutely invaluable. Did the two Brugairolles use a bi-lingual Notaire?  Suspect not. And there hangs the tale.  Understanding leads to discussion. Discussion leads to peace. If only world leaders would discuss things that bind them together, rather than their differences. Let's hope that NATO has moved the world a little further from disaster. Unfortunately stonehenge literally means precipice.......

31 August 2014

Three years ago I was much taken by a book called The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. It wasn't that it was particularly literary, but that the sub-plot involved problems when new immigrants to France integrated with the locals.  Clearly Steven Spielberg liked it too, culminating in a new film, called Les Recettes du Bonheur in France, released here next week.  Especially interesting is that some scenes were filmed locally in Saint Antonin Noble Val in Tarn et Garonne, near here.  Film producers always head for this mediaeval village, it being also the setting for the haunting WW2 film Charlotte Grey. But this new film is also attractive to the French food industry, especially those 'fait maison' chefs looking to attract more clientele to what real French cuisine is all about. It stars Helen Mirren as an autocratic French Michelin-starred restaurant owner confronted with, of all things, an Indian restaurant right opposite, run by Indian immigrants. Quel catastrophe! It's an ideal opportunity for different cultures, beliefs and taste-buds to come crashing together.  The French, who in my experience don't take easily to foreigners, are probably saying right now: come back German U-boats; all is forgiven...

24 August 2014

Tomorrow sees the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Fast-forward to today's world. What might people in the '40s have made of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Google? No-one could possibly have imagined how all this technology has changed the world for individual citizens. I remember, post-war, reading futuristic comics of flying cars and supermen, but nobody foretold of how in the future ordinary people would be empowered to learn and liaise via amazing instant technology, within the reach of everyone from Alaska to Africa to China. Hillary Clinton says the internet has become the world's town square, classroom, marketplace and coffeehouse. You'd think that wars would no longer be with us, now that individuals can talk things through so easily. Back in 1916 a Frenchman called Francois Georges-Picot tried to bring order to a chaotic world by re-drawing the Ottoman empire. But now? Yet another faction has emerged, vowing to restore and extend all these lands under its supreme domination. They have all the modern benefits of i-technology to liaise and consult freely with the people, but do they? No. Ancient barbarism reigns, yet again. Where is Superman when you need him?

17 August 2014

It was over 50 years ago when I first fell in love with France. It was a school exchange and I was a shy, gawky14. Jacqueline Brient was a surprising 21 and very chic. She shared a bohemian flat, with its ornate tiny balcony overlooking the Left Bank. Across the street was a noisy, eclectic marketplace so redolent of Paris.  Strong French cigarette smoke trails into my memory, together with that first meal. Haricot verts sizzled alone on the plate. I looked down and waited - surely there must be more? But no, so I ate and was amazed. The most delicious thing I'd ever eaten, mixed with what I now realise were baked garlic and onion. And then the train journey to the countryside around Blois where her parents lived. Walking through waist-high fields, golden with yellow daises, wild blue sage, cow-parsley and marguerites.  Ah, such memories. But now? After nearly 10 years of living in France, have I fallen out of love?  Certainly, the old loves still remain:  le bien manger, le soleil, la qualite de la lumiere, coupled with the amazingly efficient health service. But, c'est bien evident: I have fallen out of love with les francaises. Just too cold and reserved, making me feel unloved, miserable and dejected. For the future?  On verra.

10 August 2014

Biggest flaw with what the US provides for its citizens? I'd always considered the US to be the best for customer care, but I was surprised. US health provision, despite tinkering around the edges by the new Obamacare, is still appalling. In France there are many things that fall short, but its health care provision is rightly the best in the world. I'm disappointed in Obama. As leader of the richest nation, he had every opportunity to bring French-style health care to US residents, but clearly he's failed. Here's what I found in one aspect. When immigrant seniors become US residents, it's impossible to find 100% health coverage. The system assumes that all seniors are automatically entitled to Medicare from life-time working in the US. So, both the immigrant senior plus the family-sponsor soon become bankrupt - one single treatment like radiation therapy can cost as much as $50,000! And if immigrant seniors have pre-existing health conditions, forget it. I know the US is founded on commercialisation but you can't run a health service with profit-seeking insurance companies - that runs completely counter to the patient's best interests. Come on Obama:  send Ms. Burwell, new US Health Secretary, to France and see how a health service should be run! And Him indoors: I've come to barack Obama not to praise him...