Tuesday, 11 February 2014

And is there honey still for tea?

It is no surprise to anyone reading my blog that I have been for years sharing my love of France with many British friends, students and readers.   I have done that with a passion and am still inviting France lovers to follow me to France or attend regular French residential courses or events here in England as many of you know.

What I have just realised (about time too!) is that this desire to share all things French with my English entourage stems from my own interest and love for England.  It is a way of thanking them for the happiness I felt when I discovered your gardens and your landscapes, your pubs and your theatres, your music and your language, your comedians and your poets , in short,  I am thanking you for all the treasures I cannot live without today. 

Having fallen in love with this wonderful country of yours in the Sixties (that gives my age away but who cares!) to the point of choosing to reside on this side of the Channel, with many visits to the other side of course,  I now wish to share with other French people a little bit of that magic!  And when one lives in a place like Cambridge one simply has to do just that…

This is how the idea of The Way To The UK was conceived.  My young colleague and friend Charlotte and I imagined setting up a small enterprise which would welcome French visitors of all ages  in a very authentic and congenial fashion.

Our main objective is to guarantee our French friends that their teenagers will not be running around Cambridge in the company of their compatriots, and that they themselves will experience the best of your language and culture when they visit.

To do this successfully The Way To the UK needs you! If you share our views, if you are proud of your cultural Heritage and enjoy speaking your language with others and if you can spare a whole week, two maximum with a visitor, making him or her feel at home the way you would a member of your own family then contact Charlotte.

We value your cooperation and we offer a substantial weekly fee to reward your efforts.

Help us make more French people fall in love with England the way we did!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Discovery of Mayenne

I'm a Southern "gal" born and bred in parts of the world where the heat can be extreme at times.

I've always longed for cooler climes and been attracted to Northern countries all my life without even knowing the reason why.

After Switzerland and Denmark, England soon became one of my favourite places on earth. Having spent the best part of my career in this country enjoying to the full the changing skies and green landscapes, now has come the time to spend a little more time in my homeland.

No matter how beautiful and bright my childhood Languedoc is I have become so accustomed to my adoptive country that I had to find a place in France that would combine the best of both worlds for me.   That's when I discovered the region of Mayenne. Tucked away in the northern part of the Pays de la Loire, south of Normandy just under one hour away from Gare Montparnasse that part of France is steeped in history, vibrant with cultural events both in rural and city surroundings. I like the tagline of Le Mans, the city famous for the 24 hours car race: “the place where history meets high speed". The place offers a wealth of interesting places to visit taking the visitor back in time and keeping up with all modern aspects of life. There are countless medieval towns, villages, châteaux of all sizes, beautiful pastoral landscapes, lakes and forests to enjoy. Sainte-Suzanne, elected one  of France's most beautiful villages in 2013 is a pure gem.

The  "Comices agricoles", annual agricultural fairs, gather the entire population in a festive celebration of old customs and traditions with villagers dressed in period costumes and medieval plays performed at street corners.  "La Nuit des Chimères" in Le Mans is a dazzling performance taking place every single night over July and August all over the old town combining light and music in the most mesmerizing fashion.

One mustn't forget to mention the gastronomy of the area which is truly remarkable.  The open air markets of Evron and Sillé-le-Guillaume are a delight to visit.

People are very open and welcoming to newcomers, at least they are to us and it is a pleasure to get to know them.

We even discovered along a public path along a field by a farm a number of poetic and mysterious quotes and messages installed there by a local farmer’s wife.Meeting her and her elderly mother was a memorable encounter.
There is a perfect organisation called Let’s Speak in Evron that will be happy to assist you in discovering this beautiful part of France.  I will from now on dedicate time to invite English friends or anyone interested to visit and stay there with French families to perfect their knowledge of French culture and language. 

Do not hesitate!  You may want to live there part of the year.  I do!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Holiday at Madingley Hall

The view from the window
Spending a few days in Madingley Hall is always a treat and a privilege and no matter how "formidable" the discovery of France may be at times for some participants on the course, it usually ends up being immensely pleasurable. This last weekend was no exception.

The glorious weather steeped the magnificent gardens around us in golden light slightly scented with freshly cut lawns and fading roses.  We remained within the thick walls most of the day in the coolness of the shade provided by the heavy curtains drawn over open windows, thus enjoying a constant breathe...  

As the theme was related to "holiday making" in France, such a setting was quite appropriate.  In the peace and quiet of our beautiful room we started our journey through France in to explain some of the reasons the French prefer to remain within the limits of the "Hexagone", rather than flying to the other side of the planet for a holiday.
Letting the summer in
 Having considered the economic factors that prevent a percentage of people from taking a holiday at all (some 16% according to Graham Robb), we looked into the cultural differences that may explain this attitude. One obvious explanation is the vast diversity of geographical settings and climates. When you can reach the seaside or the mountain tops within a few hours' drive, it seems practical to do so, saving  time, travel expenses and the trouble of speaking another language.  One must also bear in mind that France is formed by ancient provinces which not only have from North to South specific and strikingly different landscapes, but scores of  different traditions, architecture, languages even, wines and "cheeses" that make it impossible to govern its inhabitants as General de Gaulle once said. 

The regions occupying these provinces cultivate their differences with a passion and going from one to the other gives you the impression of being in another country.  That is what "monsieur tout le monde" and his family knows or suspects in France and combining a need for a change and the security of feeling at home, most will opt for a holiday in France.  
Ready to take off

Holiday makers coming from Picardy, for example, have many choices of coastal destinations. Whether they choose the beautifully cool, luminous and stunning Côte d'Opale, the rocky coast of Brittany, the dramatic Atlantic beaches of surf-lovers or one of the scorching hot Mediterranean sea resorts they will not have to cross the border to Spain or Italy to get their share of exoticism, light or heat. 

In these days of low-cost flights, a greater number of French people will travel abroad on holiday, mainly around the Mediterranean sea, but most families will equally choose to explore a part of France. It is a well known fact that the facilities provided by local camping sites are excellent and make a holiday more economical.  In a similar fashion the majority of French people will be able to spend their winter holidays without making the use of a passport with mountains as different as the Alps, the Pyrenees or the Massif Central.  

On the whole the French tend to choose a type of holiday where there will be things to do and to learn for adults and children alike.  Hence the success of Theme Parks like Futuroscope or Le Puy du Fou, the former exploring the latest technology and the latter recreating events and periods in medieval history.  The French are very keen on History and the many Son et Lumière shows and festivals in Châteaux of all styles, for example La Nuit des Chimères in Le Mans, bear witness to this fact. Paris is also a favourite tourist destination in the summer as well as throughout the year.  This gave us an excuse to set our eyes on the French capital for a few moments.  

All this may account for the fact that the French would seem to be more insular in a way than their Northern neighbours.  It is true that they are very attached to their homeland, to regions, specific villages even, where their ancestors come from.  They tend to return there as often as they can, for the weekend even and the summer. This accounts for the huge traffic jams on Sunday night or mid summer, creating havoc and concern and making headline news. City dwellers very often buy a little "country" house (or inherit one) where they plan to retire one day that they use as a holiday destination for years. France is the country in Europe that has the largest number of secondary homes.  Note that people usually rent for a flat or a house in the town where they spend their working years.
Pam's ready to go....

In the process of studying all these aspects of French mentality and culture, we enjoyed setting our eyes on beautiful images of France and had fun listening to people's memories of their own holidays there.  The group felt comfortable speaking French and a joyful and friendly atmosphere prevailed throughout the weekend. As the course ended on Bastille Day. A vibrant Marseillaise, rehearsed in secret I presume, was intoned in my honour. My surprise was as great as my delight as I had momentarily forgotten the date!  

Do not hesitate to join us at these Madingley Residential Weekends. Consult the ICE calendar. Our next meeting on August 30th will welcome people with very limited knowledge of the French language and the challenge will be to demonstrate how simple it can be to learn to communicate in a foreign language in a few hours. If "jumping in at the deep end" appeals to you, why not contact Madingley Hall right away!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

La Loire éternelle…

No matter how often we choose the Pays de la Loire as a destination for our “French on your plate” workshop we always manage to discover new treasures.  This was the case last Saturday when we watched an aerial film showing stunning views of the Loire valley from Nantes to Chambord.
We shared our memories of visits to that part of France whilst sipping a glass of Kir andardais, a local apéritif.  We learnt more about heritage and culture and particularly about the Renaissance days when the magnificent châteaux de la Loire were built one after the other along the river banks of the wild river and François 1 and his sister Marguerite de Navarre enjoyed the company of Leonardo da Vinci.  


We mentioned the great literary figures and thinkers who gave the French language its reputation of excellence.  We noted that the region of the Loire is the part of the country where French is said to be the most beautiful and as balanced and perfect as the local weather praised for its “douceur angevine”.  We admired, amongst a few, famous castles including: Chenonceau, le château des Dames, reflecting its arches on the surface of the Loire, Chambord and its spectacular double helical staircase most certainly designed by Da Vinci; the magnificent Château de Blois, François 1's absolute favourite; Amboise where Da Vinci is buried; and the Château de Villandry, the last built in the period with its delightful symmetrical gardens. 

The Loire Valley is like one big garden and the quality of the produce to be found on its thousands open air markets, is outstanding. So are the Loire Valley vineyards and the variety of wines the produce, that we didn’t fail to sample on the night: Touraine, Bourgueil, Vouvray, Sancerre and Chinon.  

On the linguistic side, we analysed and scrutinized recipes and their respective vocabulary. Explained and discussed the various meanings and idiomatic expressions!  
The preparation of the meal under Christine’s expert supervision in the beautiful Lacanche Kitchen at Cook's Barn, went smoothly and we all soon enjoyed getting around the table once more to enjoy all the specialties that had been specially brought from the region for the occasion. 

Apart from the delicious wines there were Rillettes from Le Mans and French “cornichons” for starters, superb regional cheeses such as tomme de Pré en Pail and tomme des Closiers, served prior to the dessert and accompanied by some pain de campagne biologique.

The conversation during the meal was mostly in French, at least at one end of the table! 

We will be in France this summer and can welcome you on the 2nd of August for “La nuit des chimères” in Le Mans, the “place where high speed meets History” as the saying goes….  Why not come and enjoy Les Pays de la Loire with us?  Whatever you do have a great summer! 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Paris, Fête de la musique 2013!

We were needles in a haystack
It won’t be a surprise to anyone, coming from us, to say that Paris is the most beautiful, vibrant and welcoming city in the world! And what better time to be there than on the 21st of June!  Our little group experienced once more the magic of celebrating La Fête de la musique in the heart of the French capital!  Although the music of thousands of bands, choirs or individuals resounds throughout the whole country on the night of the Summer solstice, there is no hesitation on our behalf in choosing to be in Paris for the occasion.
When the saints are marching in...
We gathered in our favourite haunts, enjoyed conversing in French in the company of authentic Parisians, walked through the city avoiding touristic places exploring places such as Le Marché Saint-Paul or Place Sainte-Catherine and the back streets of Beaubourg, took walks along the River Seine and Le Jardin du Luxembourg and caught a bus rather than the metro to be surrounded at all times by the ambiance of Parisian life.
Taking pictures only!
We even went to the cinema and had a peep at the mythical Pâtisserie Mulot in Saint-Germain-des-Près, so famously good that one can see three queues of customers on the pavement outside: one for bread, one for cakes and one for catered meals!
We were blessed with the weather.  After days of rain and storms the skies cleared up on the night and music exploded from everywhere! Hundreds of pedestrians took to the streets and it became more and more difficult to walk through the crowd without losing a member of the group but we finally completed our tour of the Latin Quarter without too much of a problem.  What amazed us most was the joyful, light-hearted and somewhat peaceful quality of the gathering despite the incredible level of decibels at times reverberating around us.  People of all sorts, young and old, locals or tourists, children perched on their fathers’ shoulders appeared from all over, clapping their hands, laughing and dancing on the pavement and the middle of the street to the beat of musical bands whose style would change from one corner of street to the other.
Speaking  French with a Parisian
A visit to Paris with The Way To France would not be complete without a dinner at Le Procope, the oldest café in Paris, where the first tremors of the French and before that the American revolution were felt. We may have sat at the table of Voltaire, Marat or Benjamin Franklin on that night, who knows?
Richard le patriote
Let's go and face the music!
Not everyone is aware of this annual French festival and we would recommend our British friends to cross the Channel if they can and be there for the next Fête de la musique in 2014, with us, why not?  It’s great  and all concerts are free!  Note that it is taking place all over France on every June 21st!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The English who belong to France...a little!

We've just spent another splendid weekend at Madingley Hall! What a privilege it was to be there once again surrounded by beauty and sunshine in total peace and quiet. Participants gathered in the Stuart room with book-lined walls and an upright piano which became quite tempting to some, to the greatest pleasure of others!

The topic took us away from the usual study of French literary figures, although the names of Victor Hugo, Baudelaire or André Maurois were mentioned as translators of Shakespeare's or other English writers’ works. The people we studied are no less worthy of our interest: they are part of a long list of English nationals, not all very well-known who have had an impact on French culture. Among them are artists, actors, historic figures, entrepreneurs, gardeners, sports people, architects, all of whom contributed through their talent and passion to some aspect of France's artistic, architectural or even gastronomic greatness. 

The French owe the creation of the Riviera to the English and quite rightly there is an avenue named La Promenade des Anglais to commemorate the factIt is thanks to people like Geoffrey Winthrop Young and George Mallory, who were actually Cambridge students, and Sir John Ruskin that "alpinisme" (rock climbing in the Alps) has become one of France's most important sporting and tourist attractions. Many peaks and passes bear English names in honour of these first climbers. In Chamonix there is a plaque where John Ruskin used to sit to contemplate the Alps. It's called "La pierre à Ruskin".

Closer in time to us is Norman Foster’s magnificent Viaduc de Millau, which is the highest bridge in the world; also James Priest,  ex gardener of Elizabeth II, who artfully tends Monet's beautiful garden in Giverny and  David Ridgway, sommelier "extraordinaire" of the Tour d’Argent in Paris. The French honour these English people for contributing to their national and international fame.  There’s also the enjoyment provided to the French public by numerous actors past and present; from Terry Thomas to Rowan Atkinson alias Mr Bean, comedians such as  Eddie Izzard (performing in French in Paris theatres), Hugh Laurie the actor and jazz musician; as well as sportsmen like Jonny Wilkinson and David Beckham. There are singers and actors like Jane Birkin and Petula Clark who are still as popular in France today as they were in the Sixties and who shape recent culture.  More recently the French public has "adopted" cinema icons such as Kristin Scott Thomas.

Throughout the weekend, we explored many more areas over all ages and observed how important the role of the English was in making a success of some of France's world renowned national assets such as: Bordeaux wines, eau Perrier, fashion or Faïence de Gien among others. The most intriguing discovery was that the Tour de France sacro-saint “contre-la-montre” race was invented by a cycling club in Huntingdon at the turn of the XIXth century.  We also looked at moments in history and the use of the language that bound the two countries. The group had fun listing some puzzling “faux-amis” and listening to Charles Aznavour’s singing “For me, for me, formidable”.  

The aim of the weekend was to thank our English cousins for all the treasures they have bestowed upon their closest neighbours, the French. Our next meeting at  Madingley Hall will be on July12th where we will look at French society and their approach to holidaying.  And if you feel your French needs brushing up do not hesitate to join in “In at the deep end” of this entertaining, interactive and challenging weekend designed to give you the confidence to speak more fluently on August 30th!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Soon la Fête de la musique in Paris!

Soon will come the amazing experience of walking around Paris surrounded by music for 24 hours non-stop!  This is something to do, at least once in a life time...
You will hear all types of music from jazz to classical, songs and dances in the streets, on the squares, on the river banks, in local mairies, cafés, gardens, concert halls and all for free!
Look out in the days to come for more information in this blog about our next visit on June 21st this year!