Reading in November.

7D932C49-7DBC-403E-B8BD-D6D1E75A0919.jpegNovember is a month to read in. The garden has died back and after work there is no light left to admire what has survived.

And so I read.  Serendipity  has provided an eclectic selection recently thanks to a school book sale.

Firstly I am reading Peter Camenzind by Herman Hesse; then A Fool’s Alphabet by Sebastian Faulks; a biography of Jame Joyce by Herbert Corman and The Ascent Of Money by Niall Fergusun.  This may sound impressive, but I admit now that I am reading them with varying success.

The Ascent of Money is on its way back to the library.  I am 60 pages in and waning.  I started well. The introduction was arresting. The average salary of an American in 2007 was $34,000.  The chief executive of Goldman Sachs, a man called Lloyd Blankfein, received  $ 46 million dollars – per year. I cannot even conceive of such a sum, so I had to read on. Fergusun explains metal money the gold and silver of South America that fueled Spain and Europe in fascinating detail, but once he goes into the methods of banking  and accountancy that grew out of Renaissance Italy, I struggle and start to skip pages. As life is short, I move on!

The James Joyce biography was written the year after Joyce  died. The stamp in the front of the book shows it was  bought in India and then the inscription shows it was given as a  present. It was sold from a library, no doubt its outspoken opinions on everything from Irishness to politics, coupled with its lyrical description deemed it unfashionable, but I am greatly enjoying it . I savour it in tart, cool, evocative slices.

Peter Carmenzind was writen in 1904 by Herman Hesse, before either of the terrible wars ripped through Europe . The hero was born in a remote Alpine village, which was not considered romantic. He climbs his mountains, but no one skis down them and the concrete and the chair lifts of 21century are an inconceivable future scar. The descriptions of the Föhn wind roaring up from the soft south to rock the roots of the icy peaks are memorable.

The book that I read each night at the moment is however A Fool’s Alphabet. This shows the life of a child of a British soldier and an Italian woman; told over places which begin which each letter of the alphabet in order. To achieve this, the story is not chronological, but swings between settings to cover each letter in turn. Rather than being contrived or disorientating, this structure is unexpectedly pleasing, as it seems to mirror the random nature of memory. I know I am enjoying it because I don’t want it to end too soon!

It is odd to write about what I am reading, as I don’t aim to recommend these books to anyone. It is rather like introducing acquaintances to one another at a rather badly lit party.

Reading in November is like that.

 

 

 

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Rien à Déclaré

E3401D3B-4830-481B-BD0F-8C75AB96C701.jpegI have just finished rewatching a very funny Dany Boon French movie set on the French/Belgium border in 1993, the year European  borders were opened and no one needed customs officials anymore.

The film came out in 2010 and shows what happens in a little border town that basically is no longer a border and how the French and the Belgian customs men have to learn to accept each other as fellow human beings. It is a film about the stupidity of racism,  full of slap stick, silly stereotypes and a soppy romantic ending.

It opens on New Year’s Day, when the laws change and the people can move freely and the irony of watching it while waiting for Britain’s borders to slam shut was not lost on me.

I try hard to avoid all controversial subjects in this blog, for all the blindingly obvious reasons . Maybe it will be just as funny when the border guards and customs people separate Britain from our neighbours in Europe. Maybe standing in queues and being suspicious of foreigners will provide us all with a rich vein of reverse humour.

I cross European borders everyday to shop, to visit friends, to go to the doctor, to work: it is as easy as crossing the street. I want everyone to feel as free as I do right now, walls do not always make good neighbours and the fun comes when you don’t need them at all. Then maybe we will all have Rien a déclaré.

I am Irish!

To Grandmother Christine Fitzpatrick and Grandfather Joseph Manning and the lovely ladies of the Irish Embassy in Paris :  go raibh maith agat, my first words of Irish.

I just got my full Irish passport and I can now sleep easily in my French home knowing I am still a European citizen and all the nationalistic nonsense of Brexit can’t make me homeless!

Silent Night

We don’t realise how noisy the world is until it stops.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve in my part of France everyone leaves work and heads for home to prepare dinner and to then to eat with their family. The cars are silent in the garages; the tractors are quiet in the barns; the chainsaws are stilled in the forest; the planes overhead are gone and even my crazy neighbour with the leaf blower is wonderfully, miraculously quiet.

And then the quiet flows back , like silk, like oxygen and all your senses are filled to the brim with it.  Deep, ancient and profoundly satisfying the silence washes through you at last.

I realise how many owls there are calling from the forest on the hill. I had imagined there was only one and now I hear three distinct rich calls in the mild air. Stepping out to turn on the lights I hear sharp piercing barks of foxes very close.

On Christmas morning I open the bedroom window to a road utterly devoid of traffic and admire mist curling and dispersing on the forest as two ravens roll over the tree line conversing loudly in their own air.

The day is as quiet of human noise as the night and as I walked in the woods each bird call seemed perfectly delineated and clear. Field fare clucked in the apple orchards, mistle thrushes chattered, jays scolded, magpies gossiped, bull-finches peeped a single note, black wood peckers mewed like buzzards, song thrushes rolled out music and above it all the jubulient winter ravens shout.

 

 

 

 

On becoming Irish

My maternal grandparents were Irish. In Liverpool everybody seemed to have Irish grandparents and listening to my grandfather sing and play fiddle with his friends in the kitchen seemed what everybody did.

When my grandparents died and the family moved away, any links with Ireland seemed to losen and I eventually felt myself wholly English. However the idea that you can part of more than one country was there as bedrock and both my grandfathers travelled the world on the ocean going liners out of Liverpool and it seemed as natural as breathing to want to see the world.

I have lived now in nine different countries and on four different continents, having come to rest ( who knows for how long) in a beautiful corner of France on the edge of Switzerland and Germany . I like being foreign because I think anywhere can be my home and I can feel at home everywhere. My British nationality has been a great good fortune, giving me the language that has has made my living and a passport respecteacross the world. As a member of the EU my potential home and work place in any of the member countries offers me a huge range of climates, countries and cultures to choose from.

And then came Brexit.

I was prepared for the result. I had spent months researching my Irish roots and my eligibility for Irish citizenship as a foreign born national , but I hoped I would not have go through with it. This is not because I didn’t want to get dual Irish/British nationality, but because I hoped no one could be misguided enough to turn their backs on all the opportunities that Europe offers.

Unfortunately I was wrong, but unlike all the millions of my fellow Brits with no European ancestors,  my Irish parents have stretched out a hand across the years and allowed me to continue being European, to continue living in France and to have the possibility to work or retire wherever the fancy takes me in the community.

I am very grateful to the Irish embassay in Paris for sorting it all out so quickly and to my Granparents for giving me the freedom to keep my options and my heart open in this amazing, interconnected world!