Shannon’s crash landing
I’ve crash landed in a small village in Champagne by way of Australia, England, stints of studying in Cuba and volunteering in Africa. I am, by most standards, well travelled. I have lived in other cultures; learned other languages; eaten other foods; consumed new drinks; and changed my bathing, bedtime and social habits. So, it remains a mystery to me why, for much of the time, I still feel like an alien in these parts.
Perhaps it is the anxiety I feel when I need to faire les bises. Is it two kisses or four? Starting on the left cheek or the right? Is there any way to read the body language so as to give me a heads up? My conclusion on this is that it is an intrinsically Gallic quality, one that I can neither learn nor acquire. I resort, instead, to making a list in a notebook, setting out the names of everyone that I meet and the number of kisses that transpire between us for future reference.
It could be the French predilection for discussing all matters relating to the lower digestive tract. Publicly. What’s a charming conversation on the matter of number twos between friends and family? Evidently nothing to be ashamed of. I could live in France for fifty years though and I would still cringe when I’m asked “Tu vas faire un caca, maintenant?”
Maybe it is simply the somewhat radical lifestyle change I’ve taken in moving here. Ditching the house in Brisbane, a city I share with two million other people; a project management job in an office where I often worked obscene hours; and a climate where, for a good eight months of the year, I would wake up, glistened with sweat before the first trace of anything remotely resembling physical exercise was undertaken. From this to a life in a village of less than 1,000 inhabitants; where my work (if I can call it that) consists of a little writing, a little jam making, a little fruit harvesting and a lot of drinking champagne along the way; and a climate where, in the depths of summer, I face days and weeks on end of grey skies and sub 20-degree days.
Despite this, however, I feel like a Martian who has had the good fortune to crash land in a little part of utopia. The generosity, the hospitality and the amity that has been thrown my way is nothing short of incredible. The fromage and the saucisson, the bread and the wine, the desserts and, well, more desserts, continue to inspire and tease my taste buds. The music – rap, folk, scène française, with harmonicas, accordions, trumpets and violins – has me cavorting in the kitchen, in the car and in the supermarket.
The sight of the nearby vineyards on a hot, sunny day, resplendent rows of green, punctuated only by little dots of red, the roses that are planted at the end of the rows, used as sacrificial lambs to portend the arrival of diseases that could wipe out the grape vines. The turquoise lakes; the wildflowers – poppies, daisies, heather, sainfoin – growing in abundance; the peaceful River Marne, meandering through the Marne Valley; the birdsong of a morning and the sounds of children squealing with youthful joy as they play hide and seek in the evenings. All of these conspire to bring me my little slice of heaven. And, at the end of the day, surrounded by plates of saucisson, glasses filled with champagne and friends keen to learn about my culture, the anxieties and frustrations that I feel, as an alien, une étrangère, melt away.