Quotidien… or not.

Apologies for the break of the past two weeks… I’ve been a little busy dealing with some of the bureaucratic niceties of becoming an expat. Mind you, not from the French, but from the US! A friend had warned me that some US agencies are a little difficult to deal with when it comes to living outside of the borders. Who needs a wall (sorry for the semi-political barb there — well, not THAT sorry)?

Fall is definitely becoming more apparent here in the Pas de Calais. It’s funny — today I noticed how low the sun was and it reminded me of how the sun drops SO very low in Fairbanks this time of year. It was then I remembered just how far north I am here. And it got me thinking about map projections and such…

And I’ve spent a few days, thinking about the expat experience in general, and that of Americans and Brits especially here in France. And even MORE time thinking about my own experiences to date.

Why do we leave our home countries? What are we seeking — or are we, necessarily, seeking anything? I have friends that are expats “in name” only — work or marriage has taken them from their country of origin and plopped them down in any number of places. And I have some friends who have voluntarily sought out the challenges of leaving to live elsewhere.

When I was in the States, I certainly moved more than the average citizens, at least in terms of distance if not frequency. It ALMOST felt like this, but not quite.

Does it bother me to go into the market, say the marché at Saint-Omer on a Saturday, to subject myself to the challenge of not really speaking enough French to explain that the carburetor’s butterfly valve has essentially self-destructed (another story, perhaps another time), but believing that my willingness to make a fool of myself in trying to order a couple of kilos of cheese or paella from the local wizards will be met with kindness, understanding, and a basic attempt to communicate (and having it proven, repeatedly). So I am baffled by someone who has lived, not just in this country, but THIS town for the past 11-odd years chooses not to engage with the community more than they do.

Being as they are British, I wondered if that might be the cause of the condition. I believe I’m not saying anything amiss to suggest that the British expats in northern France seem to be trying to establish a “little Britain” deep in the cœur de Nord… or at least, it would certainly seem that way.

Je ne sais pas… so here’s a picture of the closest local café, instead. And I can guarantee it’s the real thing. Perhaps I’ll be able to post some pics from inside soon. Stay tuned…

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Le Limitrophe

Jésus des champs de maïs

France is supposed to be a secular country and goodness knows the struggles since the Revolution to free itself from the heavy influence of The Church (mainly the Catholic, but there’s Protestants in the mix, too, and we’re seeing how they respond to the historical influx of Muslims), but out in the rural areas, there is evidence of a staunchly conservative and un-secular culture, too.

I noticed this particular expression of Catholic iconography earlier upon my arrival and I managed to get a couple of photographs before the cornfield was harvested. Somehow, the isolation of NOT having the corn around it makes this particular statuary a little more poignant than before. I’ve seen other small shrines and crucifixions scattered about on the roads between here and the train station or the market, but not quite as monumental as this one. There may be others elsewhere that are larger, but this seems to be the big one in the neighborhood.

Jésus des champs de maïs

… I need to go back and take a still closer look as this one has an inscription at the base that it is memorializing an event; unfortunately, the grass has grown up a bit too much and I wasn’t able to read most of it. This part of France seems to have an abundance of small memorials, given that it has been fought over for centuries…

Whither Bibendum?

Oh, woe!

What could possibly have happened to him? Is this the cruel end of Bibendum, the Michelin Man? Reduced to this, nothing but these poor remains along the side of the Rue du Choquel?

At any rate, I kept on walking…

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Sort of like a Humpty-Dumpty only with steel-belted radials (and a couple of motorcycle tires, too).

Monsieur Le Chasseur

A beautiful day for a walk and half of France agreed. It was Sunday afternoon, after all, and THAT’S what one does.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous so it was no hardship to be out.

A few hundred meters into my stroll I encountered a sign, similar to one I’d seen before and didn’t really know what what it was all about, but I could guess so I followed the directions — here’s a link to an explanation:

http://fr-fr.gps-viewer.com/tracks/7th/Sentier-d’Hugo-Racquinghem/

I only did a small part of the route, but I was pleased to discover this and another one for the area. Mostly, I was walking along the portion of the chemin du halage — the towing path — along the Canal.

Yes, a real Canal. With barges. And cargo. And houseboats.

There is a parallel path to the tow path and it runs along the fields, with quite a bit of hedges and trees along one side. It being hunting season, there are lots of locals out with their dogs and their shotguns, blasting away first thing in the morning and then again in the early evening. Fortunately I was in out in the time in between, not that I’d be mistaken for a pheasant or quail, the local selection of flying fowl hereabouts that they’re shooting.

But I did run in to one optimist along the way and I worked up the courage to ask if I could get a photo of him and his dog.

Monsieur Le Chasseur

About a half hour later, after a bite to eat that I’d brought along (mmmmmm… fresh baguette split open and slathered with local butter, a couple of slices of viande, and some fresh chevre inside of said baguette), I came across what had to be his vehicle, parked on the side of the tow path. I say it was his his because there was a soft gun case, draped over the passenger seat of the jaune postale Renault van.

C’est la France; il y a toujours une exception…

L’écureuil roux

Or, “NEVER Eff*** with a Librarian”

Those who know me know I went to library school, even worked as a librarian and an archivist. Those of you who know me and are also librarians and archivists know that it is never wise to tell lies about factual matters around a librarian or an archivist because WE WILL HIDE YOUR SHIT WHERE IT WILL NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN!

It’s also unwise to say things in conversation that can be easily verified later as being false. And there hangs the tale…

Among the dinner topics last night, it being Friday the 13th of October (read through this to see why some people find that date, uhm, unauspicious — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_Templar ) was the question of whether or not there were squirrels in France.

One of the members of the dinner party asked if there were any squirrels on the estate and Himself replied in a baronial manner that, in fact, there were no squirrels on the estate nor in France, but that there were squirrels in the UK, the red ones being harassed mightily by those dastardly imported grey ones from the Colonies. And there followed much back-and-forth about the squirrels in the UK…

Being as squirrels are just bushy-tailed rats, I smelled one, pulled my phone out of my pocket and quietly and discretely did a quick search, turning up this little gem —
http://www.planetepassion.eu/mammals-in-france/Red-squirrel-Sciurus-vulgaris-Ecureuil-roux-in-France.html — but kept it to myself, having actually seen something large enough to be one in one of the upper limbs of a tree earlier in the week.

So today, I was standing in the back doorway, enjoying a tasty orange, gazing at the colors of the trees as they turn, when the resident grey heron made a grand entrance over on the lake. I thought I’d slip upstairs, grab the telephoto lens and snag a shot from the from the window.

So I quickly got upstairs, went to the already open window and sat looking, in vain, for the heron. As I did, something moved in my peripheral vision but I wasn’t quick enough to see what it was. A few minutes later, once again, there was a shadow flickering by but this time I spotted it. And turned the big lens in its direction:

L'écureuil roux
A local… yes, Virginia, there ARE squirrels in France. Red ones, even…

The very Baron himself was positively shocked when I showed him this photo.

Yeah, right. There are no squirrels at Le Chateau des Araignées, nor any in all of France.

And NEVER f**k with a librarian/archivist.

Bonjour, bonsoir, whatever time it is…

“Wherever you are, there you are.”

And it’s true.

But it’s down right strange to be in France and be closer to London than Paris.

But there you are, definitely in France, but surrounded by so much of Britain that you might as well be somewhere in Hackney (sorry, Hackney — you’re a nice place and I loved spending time there, but THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FRANCE) for all the French you’re getting to learn and speak.

Escape into town. Up by the church and le postale; at least there’s a tabac there and Isabelle and Laurent don’t speak much English, but they are amused by your efforts at le langue Française and they DO have some local brew.

Or take a right out of the gate and walk down to the bridge over the canal. There’s a bar there, seems like a real bar inside from what little you’ve seen. Certainly worth another visit and spend some time with some real locals — and hope that they’re not derelict Flems on the run and speaking in Flemish rather than French.

Call this a work in progress, call it what you will… just don’t call me late to dinner.

More to follow when the spirit so moves me…