“Bon bout de l’an” (have a great end-of-year) is the typical French salutation for New Year. Your reply can echo those wishes, and add “et à l’an que vienne” (and a great year to come). And with that I do hope I have my subjunctive correct. Oh yes, the bout de l’an, brings with it many resolutions such as the desire to improve (this year I will master the subjunctive!) and absolve those good intentions that fell flat in 2016.
A new year, a new start – and this time I’m determined to stay on track with my resolutions! Even as I write, I wonder who I am kidding. But there is a way, and over the years I have learnt that whittling resolutions down to tiny steps and inserting them sneakily into daily life is the only guarantee that they will last longer than a couple of days. Bref, you trick yourself until it’s a habit.
In 2017, I am limiting my resolutions to just five. Each one will keep me focused on France and lead to a measurable achievement, but I will start very small and nudge myself along ‘peu à peu’ (little by little) so by the end of the year, voilà, they will be part of who I am. That, I think, is a resolution in itself.
So, to my ‘bonnes résolutions’ and how they will come to pass.
1. Read in French every day – aloud – and translate it back to myself
Over the years I have bought a number of books in France. They are by Le Livre de Poche (small, inexpensive paperbacks). As a bookaholic, I can’t walk into a bookshop without buying – even if I can’t read them!
So I now have several that I hope to read – dictionary by my side – when I have time. Of course it will always be in the future if I don’t start. So that is what I will do as one of my resolutions in 2017, a paragraph – or a page – at a time. It will keep me in touch with France every day and help me to learn the modern idiom, the way people speak and describe things, and practise tone and inflection when reading out loud.
The first book I have lined up is ‘Les gens heureux lisent et boivent du café’ by Agnes Martin-Lugand. It is (if I’ve translated correctly) about a woman who leaves France to live in Ireland as a way of escaping her grief after her husband and daughter are killed in a car accident.
2. Visit the new Tapestry Museum at Aubusson
This will be a ‘must’ for my visit to France in 2017. I also weave tapestries and have visited various museums and châteaux in France to see them, but not yet Aubusson.
Located between Clermont-Ferrand and Limoges, Aubusson has been a centre of tapestry weaving for the past five and a half centuries. In 2009 it received World Heritage listing by UNESCO as the ‘Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie’, and this year the new Tapestry Museum was officially opened by President Hollande. I know it features regular exhibitions of contemporary tapestries; it has ateliers (studios) for working tapestry artist-weavers, and a place for what is called ‘travail à quatre mains’ (work by four hands) which basically means tapestry weavers interpreting works by another artist.
So 2017 will start with learning more about Aubusson, its tapestries, weavers, history and location as well as organising train tickets and accommodation. Finding something to look forward to, or plan for, helps to sustain my interest in France and keeps me focused on my goal – whatever that might be – for my next visit.
And for further inspiration, I can visit the Australian Tapestry Workshop in South Melbourne to watch Australia’s top artist-weavers at work. The workshop also offers regular exhibitions, workshops and guided tours. It is wonderful to see this ancient art alive and well in contemporary Australia, and it will be great to compare the two when I get to France.
3. Learn to cook several French dishes with ease
Cooking traditionally French dishes is one way to retain the pleasures and scents of France when you are not there. I also want to increase my cooking repertoire with dishes I can produce almost without thinking, which will mean a bit of practice.
I plan to start with a tiny ‘tarte aux pignons’ (pine nut tart) because, while I rarely eat dessert, I enjoy something small but sweet at the end of a meal to contrast with a black espresso. And so long as I limit myself to just a morceau, the tarte aux pignons fits the bill perfectly. It is also something I can make in advance, which is great for dinner parties.
I have a book of Provençal cooking that, I’m embarrassed to say, I bought for the pictures and to drool over the dishes. In 2017, I will choose a few recipes and practise them. I have selected five that I would like to master.
They include: ‘oeufs farcis de Pâques’ (stuffed eggs for Easter) using tuna, anchovies, tapenade or tomatoes as filling – how hard could they be? – and they have the Easter deadline; ‘daube de boeuf à la provençale’ for winter with its luscious marinade and addition of dried orange peel – a long slow cook to while away the winter hours; ‘petits sablés à la lavande’ (lavender-flavoured biscuits), something aromatic, different and hopefully, easy! I would also like to use lavender more widely in other dishes.
The last two dishes on the list are a ‘sauce tomate classique’ with smoky bacon that I can simmer for a long, long time to bring out all its subtle flavours – and have some to keep in the freezer for future dishes; and finally, a good ‘pistou’ as a basic ingredient for ‘soupe au pistou’ the bean, ham and basil soup that is a favourite in Provence.
4. Sew myself a medieval outfit to wear at the 2017 Castrum d’Arcus
The town of Les Arcs-sur-Argens holds a stupendous medieval festival – recognised as the best in Provence – every two years called ‘Castrum d’Arcus’. The festival is held on every odd-numbered year with the next one in 2017. I was there for the 2015 festival which blew me away.
Everyone in the town dresses in medieval costume: the townspeople, the shop keepers and the actors in the festival. Not only do I love the medieval period, but I love the clothes they wore, and by dressing up, I will look less like a tourist.
If I could live in Les Arcs all year round I would join ‘Les médiévales’ sewing circle, making costumes for the major ‘spectacle’ (performance) that is staged every night in the outdoor amphitheatre. I have already looked at some simple designs and I will copy one of the beautiful flowing robes with big sleeves and sew it myself, ready to pack into my luggage for next year’s visit to France.
5. Forget food rules and regulations and learn to eat like the French
Eating always seems to wangle its way into my annual resolutions, usually in the form of diets. But in 2017, I plan to forget them altogether and enjoy good food in moderation.
Firstly, not all French women are slim! Secondly, this resolution is not about dieting as such, rather about learning to eat well and savour meals without putting on weight, but also without weighing, measuring and worrying about food.
I like the French attitude of ‘bien dans sa peau’ (feeling good within yourself), so I have decided to enjoy my food, but be conscious of what I eat, how I eat and how I feel. I think it will be hard at first to say no to something delightful, even if I am full, but learning to listen to my body first will hopefully pay off by not having to worry about the scales.
In 2017, I will use smaller plates, smaller portions, take tiny mouthfuls and eat slowly (as slowly as I require a French person to speak so I can understand them) and enjoy savouring the tastes.
I have decided to enjoy my food, but be conscious of what I eat, how I eat and how I feel.
That’s all. Oh, and nothing between meals. And a 30 minute-plus brisk walk each day. Is that enough? I hope so.
So in 2017, I will Frenchify my year by keeping an active focus on France through my ‘medieval dress project’, improving my reading and understanding of French, learning to cook different French dishes and eating well but minimally, while planning my visit to the country’s leading tapestry museum. Little by little. Every day.
With these resolutions, I am actually looking forward to the Premier jour de l’an (New Year’s Day).
What are your New Year’s resolutions? Let us know in the comments box below!
1. ‘New-Year resolutions list’, via wikimedia commons.
2, 4 & 5 © Jan Leishman.
3. ‘Charlemagne tapestry’, via wikimedia commons.
6. ‘Enjoy’, geralt via pixabay.