That was then….

I’ve been wondering for a very long time whether to continue with this blog….especially considering I no longer live in France. And if it’s now going to be about Dublin well, French Onion isn’t exactly the best title. However as I find myself living a surprisingly similar life here to the one I lived in Collioure, there are connections. And I am interested in exploring how the experience of living in another country is never lost and influences the way you live back in your own home in both subtle and obvious ways. Is that influence always a good one? We’ll see…



A long, long way from here to there..

22nd October 2010

I haven’t gone away, you know. Although I should have. And tomorrow I will definitely be gone. Meanwhile I’m sitting on the balcony feeling pretty shitty about the fact that this is my last day in Collioure.

At 9.30 in the morning I start leaving France. I will be pointing my car in the direction of the maelstrom of misery that currently constitutes the island of Ireland and I will be heading, slowly, towards its centre. Why? Because I’ve already stayed 2 months longer than the originally planned 6 month period and the time has come to keep my promises and tend to my responsibilities.

As if mirroring my own upheaval, France has been in a bit of a tumult over the past month. Protests against reforms which would move the retirement age from 60 to 62 have gathered momentum; blockages have been imposed on oil refineries and strikes have been accompanied by outbreaks of violence in some places. But the event that has caused the most commotion in Collioure is the violent storm which turned the place upside down a couple of weeks ago.

I am currently living on the third floor of a village house just across the road from the sea, which I can enjoy from my balcony. As we all know, the sea has many moods but it is predominantly disposed towards calm in the relatively sheltered coves of Collioure.

However, when the storm started the sea turned so angry that it became a different beast altogether. Waves reached previously unknown heights and violently lashed the castle walls and any other impeding surface. Boats were sunk, opportunist surfers were chased ashore and spray was everywhere. Meanwhile, thunder and lightning competed with the sea for dramatic effect and the heavens unleashed a torrent (much of which landed in my bed at 4 o’clock in the morning, having found a spare space in the roof) which was driven full-force by the screaming wind into anything that moved. It was an outstanding storm – exciting, savagely wild and deeply tormented. It even hit the national news!

Wild as it was, unfortunately the storm was also dangerous. A gentleman of the locality was drowned by the high seas when attempting a swim in the storm at 3.30 in the morning.

For my own part, I had arranged to have Sunday lunch in a local restaurant with some friends who live in  Spain and, in spite of a treacherous drive, they arrived just in time to rescue me from my thoroughly wet accommodations. After a lovely meal, we swam up to Les Templiers for a post-prandial. Our clothes were so saturated at this stage that we had to stay in the bar for quite a long time waiting for them to dry. Which was okay, because we were quite diverted by the pig.

Yes, the pig. Like many people that day, his owner had taken shelter in the nearest bar and ‘pig’ was deposited on the floor and left to fend for himself while his owner commenced to prop up the self-same bar with his mates. Something like being the girlfriend of a rugby player, I should imagine.

So, while his owner totally ignored pig’s existence, the rest of the people in the bar were quite exercised by this cute little thing with the sniffing snout. I’m not that enamoured of pigs myself but after a couple of hours sipping wine he really was the most beautiful creature you ever saw!

I did take pictures but they seem to be a bit out of focus.




The hills are alive

30th September 2010

I can’t believe it’s been well over a month since my last post. Blame the weather, the internet or, even, blame it on the boogie. But don’t blame me. I am, after all, getting on in years and am entitled to procrastinate if it gains me a little respite from the cares of the day.

Yes, I know I was supposed to leave France at the end of August but that’s where procrastination becomes a positive force. My six-month sojourn, which started on March 1st, has now become an 7-month sojourn owing to the fact that I just didn’t bother to go home.  And the news from the old sod is making any voluntary attempt to make the return trip seem more crazy by the day. The weather is crap, the banks are in crisis, the government is being run by a hobbit with 10 chins, and
we, the people, are expected to cough up gizillions of euros over the next 4 years in order to pay for the debts left by the corrupt practices of the banks and the property developers.  Blood-boiling stuff.

The trouble is, I have to go back to earn a crust even if I am only going to be left with the crumbs after contributing to the pay-back. So…the new departure date is the end of October. Unless, of course, anyone wants to send me a cheque on a monthly basis to support my artistic endeavours? I thought not. Bring back patronage, I say.

I have moved back to Collioure since last I visited these pages and it’s like coming home. My old fisherman’s cottage wasn’t available but I found, initially, a house on the more touristy side of town which I inhabited for 2 weeks before coming to my final resting place, back in the Fauborg area.

The house was old, and a bit dark, but comfortable. The only drawback was that the street outside was so steep that it had steps all the way to the top. Needless to say, I had to stop for a long pant at various stages of the ascent, a practice that became quite dangerous during the course of my stay. You see, the soldiers (yes, they’re still around – turns out they’re trainee commandos) live in the fort near the top of my very narrow street.  I was first alerted to the strategic importance of Rue de la Butte when all of the liquid matter involved in my petit dejeuner one day began to tremble and a thunderous sound shook my windows.

The source of this noise turned out to be commandos – at least 100 of them – running down the street quick-smart, with an officer barking at them like a demented sheep dog. Thereupon commenced two weeks of soldiers running down the street at all hours of the day and night, and soldiers running up the street at all hours of the day and night. The down run was generally fairly fast and furious, while the up-run was a sorry sight. Those poor dears had obviously been dunked in the sea, fully clothed, before being laden down with more equipment than your average two-humped camel could safely handle. And the officer timed their progress as they climbed the steps dripping  sweat, water and the will to live all over the street. Their over-burdened backs ensured that foreheads were close to touching the slippery steps ahead and it was hard not to weep for their suffering.

Mind you, my initial sympathy was tempered somewhat by the fact that I couldn’t get any of them to agree to give me a piggy back to my front door following my own expeditions downhill. I mean, when you’re that broken are you really going to notice an extra burden or two?


The rentrée has started and I wish someone would tell that to the outrageous number of bodies still crammed together on the beaches. In theory, the ‘rentrée’ is a cover-all for the various sectors of society who are making a return to some occupation or other during this week of August.

So…the schools prepare for the return of pupils, pupils start shopping for books, politicians return to work (following a mere 3 week break), holiday-makers return to their desks/posts and fully-operational France clicks back into gear.

And, yes, there has been some sort of exodus from the coast but nothing like I was expecting. There’s still a sort of roll-on roll-off system in place, as bodies lie in layers all along the sea-front. I’m thinking of walking along the water’s edge carrying a large placard with the words GO HOME! painted in 6 different languages. Or, maybe I could hire one of those small planes and trail the message behind as a banner? I wonder how rude you can be on those banners before you get rentrée’d to your home country?

Hair raising events

The French lessons finished two weeks ago and I like to think that teacher would be proud of some of the things I’ve managed to say in French since they ended. Mind you, we had another row on my last day when she insisted on repeating the same series of sentences to me 3 times in a row. She was met by the familiar blank stare on each occasion but persisted, getting louder and faster on each occasion. Finally, exhausted after 2 weeks of intense concentration, I shouted back: I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE SAYING! It turns out she can speak English after all. Even knows a few swear words. Tsk!

We had been asked to each bring in a food stuff from our own country for a special lunch on the last day. It was a lovely idea, but again it got a little bit lost in translation. The rest of the class arrived bleary-eyed and laden down with exotic dishes that had been baked, boiled or roasted during the night. I arrived with a can of Guinness. Needless to say, I slipped away quietly clutching my certificate (of proficiency! in French!) before the lunch got under way.

It’s been so hot here for such a long time that I had a vivid dream one night about shaving all my hair off. It felt so good that, the next day, I carefully separated all of the hair growing on my crown from the rest of the nest, took a scissors, and sliced through it about an inch from the roots. Result? A mullet. One inch on top and shoulder-length all round. I told myself not to panic; that at least nobody knows me here.

I thought of cutting the rest off as well but it was clear the short look wasn’t really going to suit me. So, after class the following day (long hair tied back in vain disguise), I walked into the nearest hairdressers in Perpignan and requested a haircut. It didn’t help matters much that the heavens had opened and I was saturated by the time I met the receptionist, but I suspect she would have laughed even if I hadn’t been dripping all over her floor.

Anyway, she told me I would have to wait an hour  so I went and sat quietly in a corner. During the hour, the salon became quite crowded with people waiting for cuts and by the time my stylist came to me she had an attentive audience. She picked up my hair, said  “Zut, alors!” and asked me what had happened. When I told her she called the other stylists to her side, picked up the hair again and told them what I’d done. Shock! Horror! And then the jokes started. She/I  had the punters rolling in the aisles. Every time a new customer arrived, he/she was asked the French equivalent of “Have you seen what she did to her hair?!”. Everyone was asked to give an opinion on what she should do with it. I timidly showed her a magazine photograph of the style I would like to have and that opened the floodgates. “Not this week!”,  she roared (in French). “You need hair for that!”.

To be fair, by the time she was finished my head had some kind of shape again. And the crowd agreed that it will possibly look reasonable in 6 months or so. As for the pic, the consensus was that there is no chance, ever, of me looking like Jessica Alba.

I’m not buying that – I mean, what can you expect from people who visit a salon called ‘L’Hair du Temps’?

More French lessons

There were 2 choices. Either become “that strange woman who never talks to anyone” or fork out for intensive French lessons. The fork was duly wielded and I enrolled in the language school in Perpignan. Lessons started on Monday and the first shock was having to get up at 7 am. The shock to the entire system of waking up this early was immediately followed by a more localised shock to the head as I banged it off the low beam that holds up the ceiling of my attic bedroom. I blame that bang to the head for much of what followed.

Predictably I arrived half an hour late for my assessment interview, following which new students are streamed into classes according to their level. I thought my interview went rather well, actually. I threw in all of the French words I know and even added a few that I didn’t know but that had looked well in the dictionary the night before during my communion with a splendid bottle of red.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I was put into the idiots class. There were 6 of us to start with and I wasn’t terribly impressed when 4 of the others, having assured me that they were also there because they were crap at French, began to speak French amongst themselves. I quickly surmised that these are the kind of unbearable people who underplay their strengths in order to lull you into a false sense of  “we’re all in this together”. We definitely weren’t.

Myself and an Italian girl got left behind from the word go. We were clearly the special needs section of the class and the tutor (who also insisted on speaking French!) very soon became impatient with my constant interruptions enquiring as to the meaning of what she had just said (giving me the explanation in French didn’t help much either). By Wednesday, I could see she was close to choosing another career. One of the class members at this stage had managed to get herself moved into another class and the other remedial student, the Italian, had given up altogether. So now we were four. Me, and the fluent ones.

A row broke out when teacher asked me to go to the board to write a list of the irregular verbs. Nobody else, all week, had been asked to come up and write on the board and I was damned if I was going to provide cheap entertainment for the rest of the class. So, I said “No”. Clearly. In English. We locked eyes. She glared. The goody-goodies looked shocked. I didn’t give a shit. And she backed down. Yay! (I said to myself, and cried all the way home).

So, after three days of me feeling more stupid than anyone has a right to feel, yesterday teacher started talking slightly slower than a really fast train and I started to understand a few words in passing.  And I discovered that the goody-goodies were just good at bluffing and they had been riding on my willingness to ask questions all along. When teacher began to ask each one of us, individually, whether we understood what she had just said each one said no. Hah!

As the first week came to an end today I had successfully brought everyone down to my level, including teacher. But my French has definitely improved. Or, at least, my willingness to say it out loud has. I even told them all the anecdote about my shoplifting day in Collioure – in French (sort of). Teacher liked it – but told me I am to stop using the word ‘merde’.

Bay watch

I watched an episode of Baywatch on the beach today. There were the lithe and lovely young bodies in red shorts, a body washed up on the beach, the lifeguards’ base up on stilts, and all manner of medical equipment spilling out of The Hunk’s back pack as he came skidding to a halt at the scene of the disaster.

Being a fan of medical dramas, I am familiar with the ensuing live-saving procedures. The kiss of life is administered by a young blonde lady, the body is placed in the rescue position. Still no response. They try pumping the heart into activity. Still no response. I’m thinking they should intubate (they always intubate in ER) but, no, they continue to take turns at the pumping. I realise the seriousness of the situation when The Hunk tells them to stop and shakes his head mournfully. Omigod.

At which, the body’s life breath hisses out through a small hole in the top of his head and he is rolled up into a ball small enough to fit in The Hunk’s back pack. Why do I feel cheated?