France, mon amour!


Visiting some countries just puts a spring in your step. I love seeing new places but there’s one country in particular that always makes my heart sing: France. The moment I land at Roissy and take one of its weird springy travelators to the chaotic baggage carousel, I feel right at home.

I’m heading to France in a few days so that means I’m skipping around the house with a stupid grin on my face. It makes me question just what it is about France that makes me feel so happy. After all, politically it’s rather a grim place at the moment.

I confess it’s the cliché of French life I love, especially when it quickly becomes reality the moment I walk through a market. I get such pleasure seeing the care with which food is offered, from a stall filled with every kind of mushroom to the cheese counter where you just have to try a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It’s the joy of ordering a glass of red wine in a bar and being asked which sort – Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Cotes-du-Rhone, or perhaps something more interesting from Arbois? And don’t get me started on the patisserie, that daily treat which involves serious brainwork as I assess the pleasure-payback of a tarte aux fruits rouges versus a simple éclair. And that’s just food and drink. Bowling along the country roads has me wanting to whistle a happy tune. A glimpse of a medieval tower in the distance or a ruin on a hilltop or even the prospect of seeing something by one of the Modern masters and I’m just Mr Happy.

Of course most of the time I’m just another carefree tourist, focussed on seeing a particular building or walking up a mountain, not worrying about work and bills and have-I-got-enough-milk-for-breakfast? I’m in my French bubble. But even when I’ve worked in France, attending trade fairs in Paris or on buying trips in Provence, I have loved the place. Something in the way it functions accords with my view of how life should be.

After returning from China this year I was very appreciative of Australia’s clear blue skies, fresh air and abundant greenery but when I’m in France I start to turn against my home country. I come back in a hyper-critical mood, irritated by everything. I itch to add striped awnings and pots of colourful bougainvillea to the dull oceanside buildings of my suburb in an attempt to make them more French. I miss the deep pealing bells of French towns and the care people take over their appearance.

My love of France isn’t simply a response to my dismay at my Australian surroundings because I used to feel the same way when I lived in England. A trip to France and I was in raptures over the open roads, rolling vineyards, and villages that hadn’t been ruined by ugly bungalow developments. I managed to turn a blind eye to the favela-like poverty visible at the edges of Paris and the relentless HLM developments because I was usually powering on to much prettier places with basilicas and charming brocante shops and Mediterranean beaches.

It is a bubble but it’s a bubble stirred by memories of my many trips through the country, which started some (gulp) fifty years ago. The country continues to get under my skin in a way that Italy never quite manages (too mad) nor Spain and all the others.

Mr Happy leaving France

Mr Happy leaving France

So this trip, as I head to Brittany (which I last visited when I was five) and then dip down to the south, passing through places that were familiar to my beloved Le Corbusier and his wife, I shall really attempt to be mindful about what is really pressing my joy button. But I’ll probably be diverted by one of those damn cakes.

So what country makes your heart sing, and why?

Categories: TravelTags: , , ,

19 comments

  1. Reblogged this on FranceSays and commented:
    Mr. Happy from Oz shares his love of all things French…in well-chosen words that make my almost-French heart sing!

  2. What a coincidence. No, I’m not going to France too, but I AM on a mission here in Sydney to find the perfect mille-feuille. I’ve had two so far, but found the white icing on the top a tad sweet. My hometown in Italy (Trieste) makes something similar and they’re to die for. No white icing – just a sprinkling of icing sugar and the layers of pastry have a sweet crunch that many pastry cooks can’t achieve. A good one is a thing of beauty. Squisito. Go well.

    • I could point you in the direction of several contenders in Paris, except I’d probably have got there first and eaten them. Oh yes, a good mille-feuille is definitely a thing of beauty and every bit as ephemeral. What a great challenge! Buona fortuna!

  3. Wales does it for me every time. I miss the green when I’m not there, suffer from hiraeth which is a form of longing for the place. Even if I just cross into England I can’t wait to get home.The air even feels better. And thanks for visiting my site!

  4. Beautiful post. I’ve only spent 5 weeks in France in my whole life, but I can’t wait to go back. I am such a Francophile that I drive all my friends and family mad with it!

    • Thanks for visiting and your kind comment. Yes, France has that ability to infiltrate your mind and I empathise with your condition! I’m trying desperately to improve my French but keep telling myself that the only way is to go and live there for, oh, a year or so…I expect to spend the next few weeks oohing and aahing over things that my partner will say, “But we have that in Australia.” Yes, but it’s not French…

      • Oh yes…living there for a year or so…that would definitely help 🙂 Thanks for visiting back. Me, I spend time practicing my French as much as possible through the magic of Skype and with my local “Prof de français.” Elle vient de Dijon ! Enjoy your travels in France!

    • so glad to learn that you’re a francophile who loves France, ’cause certain “folks” hate it and adore the US!!! 😉

  5. I’ve lived in France for a year and a half now and I chose it for all the reasons you so beautifully outline in this piece. I’m English and there is a corner of England that is forever me or is it the other way around? But France has my heart and I miss it sorely when, as now, I am away for a while.

    • Aha, I knew it! I sometimes wonder if I would feel so strongly about the place if I actually lived there, dealing with its bureaucracy and idiosyncratic ways. But I think I know deep-down that once the country is in your blood then it’s there for good, nestling against that morsel of England and (for me) Australia. Thanks for affirming my belief! I hope you get back home soon.

  6. mille merci for this wonderful and emotional post, Colin… it did touch my heart! ❤ I've traveled quite a lot, spent 5 years in the US, but France is and will always be my homeland… there are 2 countries where I've been several times that I also love: Japan & Iceland… 🙂
    * * *
    have a great week and friendly thoughts from Menorca islet, olé! 🙂

    • It’s certainly interesting which countries draw us towards them. Iceland is on my list to visit (I’m thinking Northern Lights and that stunning landscape) and I really enjoyed my recent trip to Japan – I can understand why you love it. But France, oh France, it has the edge….Thanks for your lovely comments!

  7. A most evocative post!
    ‘How life should be’ … it certainly seems so.
    Do they have the best cars too?

    • I have often thought that my favorite car is the Citroen DS with its shark nose and supersoft suspension. And who isn’t charmed by the frogeye 2CV? I love the French quirkiness and single mindedness but realize that doesn’t always produce the best…

  8. Well I moved to France 17 years ago from the UK so I suppose that says it all! And I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say about France. However, the place that really makes my heart sing is Ireland. I believe all the clichés are true in Ireland, there really is magic in the air…

    • I always hang my head in shame when I reveal that I have never been to Ireland, despite never hearing a bad word against it. And doesn’t it show how the places that often make our hearts sing are not the place in which we live! Maybe that otherness is part of the singing quality!

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