“I… I spent most of my holidays here as a kid,” I say because the two seventy-something obviously expect me to explain my presence here, in their supermarket.
Nine humans from 2.5 years old to 86, two cats and a beach house. The more the merrier… right?
The supermarket had closed an hour earlier, it was empty but you could still smell the usual Saturday rush complete with overexcited kids running around, products spilled in aisles and cheques being written for a week worth of groceries.
“Plane! I go plane!”
Yeah, I wish Mark. But the flight was being delayed, originally at 4:30 p.m. it was pushed back to 5:00 p.m., then 5:30 p.m., then 6:00 p.m….
I mute the French anti-police slogans that automatically play in my head when I hear the word “police”. Grow up, Juliette. You are no longer an angry teenager. “The police help people when they have a problem,” I reply to Mark, almost convincingly.
“Fingers in the nose!” I laughed. “Les doigts dans le nez—it’s a French idiom, it’s used to describe something that’s super easy. I guess they want to show that buying the pass is the easiest and cheapest way to ride the tramway.”
The Canada Day stage is almost set up in front of the Parliament, but this year again, we will miss the festivities: we are heading to France!
The flight to Toronto was packed and it was a long one too: 8 hours and 55 minutes. That’s when it went downhill. Feng and I were exhausted but Mark wasn’t and trying to keep him relatively still and quiet on my laps was hell. It felt like dealing with a feral cat in a small enclosed space—yes, I got scratched too.
There is a French saying that goes “thou shall always cut your kid’s nails.” And…
Et merde. Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong—not in a major way (we did make it to France) but in a series of small annoying ways.
I have always refused to fly “home” for Christmas. Because I ain’t going to Europe during the crazy holiday season, in the middle of the winter, just to eat a freaking bûche de Noël. As everybody knows, when you have a kid, you lose neurons, time and common sense. That is my excuse for booking a last-minute trip to France.
Everyone has heard about French eating snails and frog legs. Fun fact: I have never ever seen frog legs and the only time I saw snails on the menu was in these tourist trap restaurants in the Latin Quarter in Paris. These foods are a bit of a stereotype, like saying “Chinese eat dog meat”—the average French person doesn’t actually crave snails or frogs. On the other hand, some beloved foods are… well, strange from an outsider’s perspective.
Whenever I see people with a clueless look on their face, a city map in one hand and a guidebook in the other, I tend to stop and offer help. It’s good karma for travelers like us. Plus, I’ve been there—lost in a new city, unable to read the damn map properly, looking for directions, etc.
But tourists can be really weird.
The first thing I did in France was to get a haircut. I needed a fresh start.
One of my goals for this trip was to “reboot” my brain. After a major lifestyle change—going from an office job to freelancing—, the nine months of pregnancy and then the first eight months with bébé, I was in survival mode.
Step one: Pick up a few educational toys, such as stackable rings, a baby book…
It’s now time for a real trip, to Mark’s other “homeland”—France.
Mark is going to meet his grand-parents, his uncle and his aunt, and his great-grand-parents. And hopefully it’s not too late to start the baby on a healthy diet of rotten blue cheese, bottles of wine and baguette crust, nom de dieu!
I’m usually happy to visit France. I enjoy traveling and I love seeing my family. The first few days there, I immediately feel very French as I reconnect with my roots—it feels like slipping into an old pair of jeans. I catch myself thinking that it would be really nice if Feng and I could rent a place in one of Nantes’ funky neighborhoods.
This summer, “A Journey to Nantes” art project (“Le voyage à Nantes”) kept the crowd entertained. The 8.5 kilometre-long “cultural urban trail” across the city, from one landmark to another, was spiced up with various street art projects, from tree houses to urban playgrounds.
When we organized the last-minute trip to London, we also decided to cross the channel and to visit my parents in France for a few days. It just made sense: we had already flown 5,600 kilometers to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, may as well travel a few more hundreds kilometres and stay with my family for a bit.
On Saturday, I have to go vote for the first round of the Presidential Elections at the French Embassy in Ottawa. France will only vote on Sunday, but as “French abroad” we have to cast our ballot a day earlier.
The line-up to go through security was interesting. Most travelers were flying short and medium haul flights to either other parts of France or sunny destinations like Morocco, Tunisia or Turkey. And each and every one of them had some banned items in their hand luggage!
Even though I haven’t lived in France in ten years and even though I’m registered as a “French abroad”, I still received a carte d’électeur at my parents’ address to vote for this year’s presidential election. So technically, I guess I can vote twice. Ahem… election fraud, anyone?
Living in Canada means that I’m relatively sheltered from campaign craziness—I didn’t even know all the candidates who had qualified, ten of them in total. But of course, this week I got a crash-course in 2012 presidential elections: it is the main focus in the media and the hottest topic on the street here.
A decade ago, José Bové, the farmer syndicalist, was fighting against junk food (he famously sacked a McDonald’s franchise to make his point) and French would rather have some baguette with stinky cheese than a hamburger. But the more I walk in Nantes, the more I wonder whether the French diet is still a good diet.