We moved to France around 18 months ago from the UK, to the Rhône-Alpes region. I’ve blogged about it before (several times) and how much we love it here.
But now the honeymoon is over.
Things aren’t quite the same. The infatuation with the newness of our local surroundings; the striking novelty of the particular differences in people, culture, foods and customs; the thrill of gazing through the window to see the mountain outside – all these have gently, imperceptibly evaporated. It is no longer quite the same to buy croissants on a Sunday morning and eat them with a bowl of hot coffee. Nor are the always less thrilling issues with living in an other country in general, and France in particular, met with amused charm, a gentle shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders, and a reflection that it is these sometimes difficult but quirky charms that remind us we are somewhere else.
These immediate thrills are gone, never to come back.
And what has replaced them is a deeper love: a richer and more satisfying love, for the people and the places, for the culture and society, and for the abundance of opportunities in all facets of life that ‘our’ part of France and Switzerland offer. The mountain still sits outside my window: but when I gaze at it now, I meet it more as a familiar friend, a sight so well studied that I am beginning to know its nooks and crannies; the way the light meets the sheer cliff face at morning, noon and dusk; the effects of seasons – snows, blisteringly hot summers, the thick cloud of indifferent days; I know its paths, the climbs and the unique way it stands among the other mountains of the Alps. Familiarity, breeding something infinitely more sublime than contempt, rather seems to nurture a growing love, as if it feeds on itself. In a musical metaphor, gone are the teeny screams to The Beatles of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to be replaced by the excitement, joy and sustained satisfaction of ‘The White Album’.
Not just the place, beautiful though it is – it is the culture – and for me the literature, history, politics, art in particular – that mean more than ever, that keep living here fresh and vibrant. Here, the more you look the more you find and its unending generosity is awe-inspiring, just as is the culture I have left and still love so. (Here, the addition of a new culture need not mean dilution: I love England as much as ever.) Without France’s and Switzerland’s infinitely rich history and culture, the landscape – the Alps, Lake Geneva, the beautiful Annecy, just for starters – would not be nearly so rewarding. They feed one another, mean something greater than the sum of their parts only when together, like a marriage. I’ve started to learn more about France through iTunesU, through podcasts and paintings, the French language and reading but, importantly, I have learnt as much as anything else by being here. It’s not an armchair adventure.
And all this is made the richer by having – for the first time, it seems – memories attached with here and nowhere else. I played an album the other day (one of my favourites: ‘The Courage of Others’ by Midlake) and realised that I had, unlike much of the music I listen to, only ever heard it whilst living here. It is from here, like me as I am now.
If this sounds like a lovesong, it is. If I sound pleased with myself, I am – and lucky, too. Now the honeymoon is over, let us start the marriage.