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A life destined to be French

I realise now, looking back, that my life was destined to be in France, as if Destiny had lined up a whole host of experiences, that I shall cover over a few blogs, connected to France to set up for my life here. In this first one I go over a collection of snippets.

My love of France goes back to the age of 9 when I first placed my feet on French soil in Pont Aven, Brittany (the home of artists such as Gauguin). It was here that I also ate my first crêpe which I realised had nothing in common with a pancake except the jam. This was back in 1976 and at this time France was completely another world, and seemingly from another era.

Number plates were black and silver, headlights yellow, roads seemed so very rural, sign posts were in concrete or built into walls and it felt like the France I fell in love with.

One very strong memory I have of Brittany at that time was that elderly Breton women were wearing their Bigoudènes, the breton lace headdresses, dressed in black, sitting on benches outisde their homes. I recall my mother asking if she could take a photo of one , who refused! Very French! It seems not so long ago but in the 70s France really was of another era, and such sights are never seen nowadays.

I was very lucky to have an uncle who lived from the age of 18, and still lives in Toulouse. He wasn't an uncle that was close to the family or one that I saw often, but he was one of the biggest influences for me in my early days. He had become totally integrated into France, he showed me the way., and it's thanks to him that I have so many memories connected to France that gave me a taste of what living in France was.

One of those was the invitation to a French family, a friend of his, for lunch, near Valras Plage in the Languedoc. I must have been around 10 years old, on holiday in Argelès sur mer. I remember the lunch being on a large balcony, not far from the sea, and a buffet set out. Now imagine, England in the 70s and a typical buffet would have been sausage rolls, quiche, triangle sandwiches with potted meat or tinned salmon, vol au vents, cheese on sticks...

This was France and and this time France was light years away from England. I was told not to eat too much as this was going to be a typical French 7 course meal. 7 courses!!! Each time, the buffet table wxas cleared ready for the next course.

I paced my self through the most delicious food, with no blanchmange or Angel delight in sight. Of those 7 dishes there were meats, fish, French cheeses, salad with the most heavenly vinaigrette, and of course dessert. I don't remember in small detail, I guess it wasn't about the things but in the feeling, the emotion. Being on that balcony, hearing French and being amongst a French family woke something up deep in me, it felt like home, and I was barely in double figures.

My uncle also gave me the opportunity to taste snails at young age, in a restaurant, and I remember holding the snail with the pinces à escargots that you are given to eat them with, pinching too hard and seeing the snail fly through the air and land on another table! And yes I love snails, though it's more about the garlicky buttery sauce that you soak up with baguette than the snail itself!

On that same holiday in Argelès, we tasted psitachio ice cream. Nowadays that sounds totally normal, but in the 70s in the UK Ice cream meant raspberry ripple, chocolate or vanilla or a choc ice. Pistachio felt like I was soooo far away from England, somewhere exotic!

He was a man of endless projects and business ventures, I remember one of them being renting out boats on the canal du midi, half of which seemed to be broken down. For me at such an young age, he unintentionally showed me how to give everything a go, not to be frightened to try out ideas, that you can live elsewhere and be like a native. He showed be that everything CAN be done. I remember him saying once, how he was on the train at 18 to go to France and he asked someone to close the window in French, and they did. He was taken abock that they understood him. A huge aha moment for him that his language was real and it worked ( I will tell you about a similar one I had in another blog)

There are hundreds of snippets of distant memories that would probably only take up a couple of lines each, meaningless to you, like ripped out images from a magazine but for me those pictures created a whole picture in my head, that of LIVING France, living it completely with all your heart. The first taste of France had its effect. Destiny had a plan.

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