Tuesday, August 24, 2010


At the risk of sounding outrageously pretentious, this is the first winter in five years we haven't gone to France. It, going to France, took on a life of its own, revolving around the Aix-en-Provence Festival and its Ring Cycle, with the Berlin Philharmonic. I'd find a conference somewhere, K would arrange some meetings, and off we'd go, anywhere from London to Budapest, and everywhere in between, ending up in Paris before hurtling down south on the TGV. We had also managed to escape winter here, or at least put a big enough hole in it.

This year, budgets need to be better balanced, the Ring is done and dusted, and the winter here is wonderful. Everyone says how cold it has been. I'm liking it. It suits me and I feel safe here in winter, surrounded by forest, rather than wondering all summer if and when the bush fires will come. So I'm not really that sorry we can't go, especially as we could easily slip into taking things for granted and nothing is more dulling than that.

But France has been on my mind. I've just finished reading Lucy Wadham's 'A Secret Life of France' and I'm madly envious of her. (Remember though, I never want to be anyone or anywhere but me and where I am - that much I've resolved.) But, she absorbs the reader into her life with such honesty that for all its complications, it is fantastic, alluring, and sexy. Frenchmen are incredibly sexy, Italians and Spanish notwithstanding. Being In France is a sexual experience, eyes meeting in the street is more sensual than a week in bed with most, and ... that's enough for now. With rare insight fired by a sharp intellect, and some pretty amazing connections (we're talking BBC here), it's like landing on a ladder and being zoomed up the French Experience game board. Lucy Wadham now lives in the (Huguenot) Cevennes, and it's there I'd love to go, maybe next time. There will be a next time.
M had lent me the Secret Life book. She is crazy for France, and on her last visit bar one had ended up in hospital before being sent back home needing her aortic valve replaced. I rang her when I'd finished reading it.

"Have you seen it?" she asked.
"Seen what?"
"So French"
"What's so French?"
"The book"
"Book? What book?"
"The book. It's called 'So French'. You remember Dany Chouet - you met her mother on the plane."

I bought it the next day. It is So French.

Many many years ago I was flying home from Paris via Bangkok. We sat for hours in the CdeG departure lounge before being told the plane was broken, or wouldn't start, or something, and were bussed back into Paris for the night while they fiddled with whatever they fiddle with when planes don't work. I'd especially noticed a not yet but nearly elderly round faced woman with an easel under her arm, and a worried smile (you know those smiles, on someone who doesn't know how not to smile, even when they're worried), sweeping all aside whenever she turned around.

I was hoping we might be seated together, but it wasn't till we were finally in transit in Bangkok that I saw her again, the easel still underarm and a long queue behind tailing through the terminal, in animated French monologue with a blank faced Thai attendant. We had missed our connection to Sydney, and now were about to have a night in Bangkok. With my French and her English about par, and that's no compliment to either, all eventually resolved with the airline reassuring her that her daughter, one Dany Chouet, would somehow be notified of Maman's new arrival time. We were to share time and later letters in the time of snail mail and I would visit Dany at 'Cleopatra' in Blackheath where, with her partner the fabulously stylish Trish Hobbs, she presided over legendary weekends of food and comfort. Remember too her sister Monique, who married Michael Manners, and set up Glenella. To the best of my knowledge, Cleopatra is now a private residence.

(From 'So French', Cleopatra, in its full glory, as it was when Trish and Dany ran it as a guesthouse.)

(From 'So French', Dany Chouet, at home in the garden in the Périgord)

As I said, I bought the book next day. It is Dany Chouet's story, beautifully presented, well written and full of gorgeous photos and recipes. It is so seductive, so French.

Trish and Dany now live in the Périgord. We're already talking with the McCs about planning a visit to celebrate someone's (not me) special birthday. Somewhere Périgorgeous.


Patricia said...

Well, Bonjour! This is the first time I have ever 'left a comment' but Dany and I are in the middle of a Mary Moody Tour of the South West of France, and one of the people on the tour told us to look up your blog. Quelle Surprise indeed. We well remember the indomitable Madeline making newest best friends on that flight, arriving very proud of herself and her new friends. Just like the story in So French of her sending Monique off to Angleterre by her force of character. (We don't use the word bossy in France). We say Tres dynamique.

Yes we are living in deep countryside, not too far from Bergerac, and thrilled to be receiving reports of the book selling out and being re-ordered in Australia, and today a friend reports that it is being presented in pride of place on a big stand in Harrods, for all to see.

If I only had time I would investigate the 'visual verification' and send a picture of our wonderful picnic yesterday, but must prepare for a grand dinner in Cahors tonight, with a trip to to marche tomorrow - Cahors market is just gorgeous.

We both thank you for awakening such great memories!
Trish & Dany.

wanderer said...

Trish and Dany - This is fantastic, hearing from you, can you believe the internet. I've been in Shanghai and locked in by the great (internet) wall of China (blogger is blocked) so only now can I say BONJOUR encore une fois with a very big smile on my face.

No wonder the book is doing well, and I'm very happy for you, in a pretty tough market to crack. Congratulations. Perigorgeous looks wonderful, and I am seriously hoping to get there, perhaps next year, we'll see. I just love that photo of Dany and the tomatoes

Such memories. Madeline. And yes, tres dynamique just about covers the scene at Bangkok airport.

Je vous embrasse.