I’m writing this in my house in central Victoria. The garden is burning to a crisp in the hot, dry wind that has lingered way past summer. Magpies are carolling on the edge of the bird bath. The neighbour’s kelpie is barking. It’s all very Australian.
But in my heart and mind, I’m in France.
And not only am I in France. I am French! Ooh-la-la!
What an exciting life I lead! And it seems even more glamorous when you consider that, last year, I was living in Rome, being totally Italian.
It’s all about writing, of course. Last year I wrote the first book in my new series, The Girl and the Writer (working title … or maybe the end title). It was set in Rome. This year I’m working on the second book in the series and it takes place in Provence. And if I’m going to write it, I might as well live it. And if I can’t live it by physically being there, I can pretend.
I started, rather predictably, with books. I raided my bookshelves for novels set in contemporary France. A few weeks ago I confessed to my irrational and jealous love for The Little Paris Bookshop. What a delight it was to reread this gem! I’ve also been flicking through The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Reader on the 6.27 and The Hundred Foot Journey. I’ve wallowed in coffee-table books on Provence and have just started rereading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Fabulous! Fabuleux! Do give it a burl, even if you never plan to travel there. It’s beautifully written and hilarious.
Once I'd sorted the books, it was time to eat. I made omelettes. Omelettes for lunch with a little glass of red wine. Sometimes a wedge of camembert and a bunch of grapes followed. I also made Salade Nicoise. So very French!
The next culinary goal is to find a French patisserie in Melbourne where I can do some serious research into eclairs, tarts and gateaux. It’ll be tough but if suffering for my art can't include pastry and cream, chocolate and strawberries, what's the point of it all???
Moving closer to the opening chapter of my book, I started to feast upon image after image. Thankfully, feasting on images is not as detrimental to one’s waistline as feasting on cheese and eclairs. I drooled over Pinterest posts of olive groves, lavender fields, wisteria-covered houses, mossy fountains and shady plane trees. I dived into Google Maps. I took that little yellow man, placed him on the road and walked him the last two kilometres to the hilltop village in which my story is set. I browsed through my own photos of Provence and dreamed about going there again sometime soon.
And last, but not least, I've been learning the language. Or, as they say in Provence, I've been learning to parle francais. (Did you see how seamlessly I slipped from English to French? Sensationnel!)
I’m probably the only Australian of my generation who didn’t learn French at school. Until six weeks ago, all I knew of the language was how to order an eclair and a religieuse chocolat from a patisserie. No, hang on a minute. I’m underselling my skills here. I also knew how to order two or three eclairs from a patisserie.
Two years ago, I did try a program called ‘Speak Fluent French in Eight Hours’, but sixteen hours had failed to take me beyond getting my fill of sweet treats. If one truly wants to become French, there's more that needs to be said. And that’s where my natty little Duolingo app has come to the rescue.
Every day, for at least ten minutes, I chatter away (in text and voice) with men, women, a dolphin, a mouse and a bear and I am surging ahead. I am now able to say the following extremely useful sentences:
This pig is tall.
The sock is red.
The shark is eating the monkey.
It is a big dress. (This one is sure to come in handy when I’ve located a reliable source of chocolate eclairs!)
The milk is white. (I can also point out that the milk is yellow or green, but hope I’m never faced with such an advanced case of decay in my own fridge.)
It is a cat but it eats vegetables.
You eat like a pig. (The dolphin told me this! Can you believe it? And I haven’t even visited the patisserie yet!)
And my all-time favourite:
I know that he knows that I know. (Actually, I haven’t really learned this sentence. I get it muddled every time, but I know that he knows that I know that it is an important sentence to know if I am to become fluent in French.)
So there you have it. My life as a French woman, or as I now say, une femme française. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to duck out and buy myself a beret, a poodle and jar of lavender honey.