The French are so funny. You cannot throw a stompie and hit a French person who doesn’t smoke. In cafes, in the street, they’ll blow their smoke right on top of your baby without batting an eye. They’ll smoke all over your fragrant, Provencal plate of food. Chefs and restaurant owners will sit down with regular patrons and smoke on top of you while you try to savour the taste of their wondrous French fare. You can also bring your smelly mutt to most restaurants and to many hotels.
But God forbid you should pollute the environment by misclassifying your recycling.
For the latter, hefty fines are apparently imposed. You are also, we just learned last night, not allowed to poison rodents in your own home. According to our landlord, Steve, this might just be illegal – he’d have to check but he certainly did not look impressed when we called him over to introduce him to the rodents that have been rudely interrupting our dinner for the past ten days. Steve informed us that these were neither rats, nor mice. Rather, they are “harmless” rodents known as “mulots”, indigenous to the South of France. Sort of like field mice, he described, only bigger.
Much bigger, I’d like to add.
Just one of the South of France’s many contrasts…
That said, we still dream of one day owning a holiday home here. The Husband has decided that inland in the countryside there are “too many insects”. I’m not sure if this means that we should rather be setting our sights on Beijing if we want a holiday home that’s insect free, but we’ll see…
So far we’ve determined that our next French adventure will be on the coast. To this end, we explored the little hamlets of Agay and Antheor, close to St Raphael and just west of Cannes, the other day. Agay was cute but it was Antheor that was really spectacular. A less up-market version of Clifton with cliffside houses overlooking a pristine, turquoise sea. With The Princess perched in her pouch on The Husband’s chest, we descended the 130 steps (I counted on the way up to try and keep my breathing even) to one of the many mini beaches. It is nearing the end of high season now so things are still busy but thankfully the masses have gone home. Because of this, we were able to enjoy the beach with just a few other people. It made our day when we could just overhear a woman near us remark to her partner that The Princess was “magnifique”. We were basking in pride!
The Husband has become rather caught up in the romance of the French language and as such is making an attempt to learn it. The method at the moment involves us lying in bed with him painstakingly reading Tintin in its original French version and me translating. I have to say that he’s learnt quite a lot. Although he still gets confused with his basic Spanish and will find himself asking for “la cuenta” in restaurants instead of “l’addition”.
His love affair with the French language, however, is mild compared to his ongoing love affair with cycling. Over the years as I’ve seen his sporting obsessions go from rock climbing to mountain biking to road cycling, my view has always been: “Have fun, honey, just don’t torture me.” This has worked pretty well for us until two days ago when he drove three and a half hours to summit the famous Tour de France climb of Mont Ventoux. There he overhead a South African accent and proceeded to meet a 66 year old teacher from Cresta who had just ascended Mont Ventoux on a tandem, with her husband, a retired butcher.
“She took up cycling when she was 43,” he told me afterwards, “so there is plenty of time for you!”
I explained what he already knows, which is that when two people both like to be in charge, a tandem is not a good idea. He said he’d asked the teacher whether a tandem hadn’t perhaps negatively impacted her relationship.
“Not at all!” she replied emphatically. “It’s like cement for our marriage!”
I was thinking it’d be more like quicksand for ours, but the next day we went to the nearby Lac St Cassien – a beautiful, azur body of water just 20km from Fayence. Because The Husband can’t sit still, we hired one of those pedal boats. We climbed on, started pedalling and i found that my feet were just going around and around without any effort at all. I asked The Husband if he felt the same but of course it turned out that he was doing all the work.
“You see, baby, it would be just like this on a tandem!” he said.
Now we’re talking…