Bordeaux – by reputation alone – is an interesting city. If the majority of French people are to be believed, it is an idyllic paradise populated by kind people, fine restaurants and – of course – the celebrated wine for which the region is known. It is also held to be unspeakably beautiful in terms of architecture and location. People continually remind travellers that the city was not always like this – as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, Bordeaux was still suffering from the hangover of its industrial past, with blackened, sooty buildings and warehouses where there are now sunny pedestrian boulevards.
The city is also located perilously close to Toulouse, making it a natural next destination for me. It sits just a little further north-west on a crescent-shaped bend in the Garonne River, which is also what gives the city its logo. To me, this blazon resembles nothing so much as a biohazard symbol, and I spent a fair amount of time wondering why the Bordelais were so inordinately proud of the local chemical warfare plant. Continue reading
Once upon a time, Toulouse was one of the many cities in France about which I knew virtually nothing. Despite my very best efforts to rub myself against every corner of this great nation, this is all too common. Particularly in the case of cities which aren’t easily accessed by train from my region. However, a last-minute invite from Julie – a colleague of my housemates – changed all that, and also took me on my very first French road trip.
Usually, I’m a planner. I like to be well-prepared and ready for whatever comes my way, and that attitude often pays off. However, I’m reliably informed that sometimes the best things in life are done à l’arrache – unplanned, haphazard. It was with this motto in mind that one Friday night after work, I squeezed myself and my hastily-packed backpack into a little red car, along with Julie, Magda, Eddy, and a fair quantity of luggage, including a huge cardboard tube filled with posters. The impetus for the trip was Julie’s return to her hometown on the banks of the Garonne, and her invitation for us to temporarily fill her car, her house and her life with our foreign noise. That was very courageous of her.
As hard as I’ve resisted it, the Earth has kept turning these last few months and somehow, I find myself suddenly at the beginning of my last week of teaching in France. A summer camper seeing my parents’ car pull up outside the camp, I am overcome by a feeling of intense dismay. Surely we haven’t reached that point already? I must have just left my bathers in the car. Six months ago.
At this juncture, I’m left with two options – either I can be depressed about the way my household is starting to disintegrate, with my housemates leaving one-by-one, and my own departure being imminent. Or, I can be optimistic, and enjoy my last few weeks as much as possible. After all, I still have the better part of six weeks to hug this precious slice of Earth to close to my chest, whisper sweet nothings to it and promise – cross my heart and hope to die – that there will never be anywhere else that makes me feel this way.
In the spirit of that optimism, here is a more-or-less randomly selected look at some of my most favourite things about life in France for me.