Becoming Yourself in France

I read a great article on “My French Life – Ma Vie Française” about finding your true self-identity while living in another country.

In “France: a place where you can become yourself?” Australian writer Lina Vale writes about finding oneself by living in a foreign country. She notes that France seems to be a place where individualism is embraced and creativity expressed.


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Interestingly, it’s a conversation I’ve had with myself frequently since moving to France. I’ve often thought that moving outside of my native culture into a totally different environment has forced me to reflect on who I am, what I believe, and what’s really important to me.

Vale writes about reinventing oneself in a new culture, and while some may choose to do so, I don’t believe it’s about reinvention, but about self discovery.

It may be that living outside of one’s native culture strips away the outer layer of superficialness and reveals the true inner self. Perhaps being faced with an environment completely different from one’s own forces one to question one’s self, priorities, and beliefs. This has certainly been true for me.

When everything familiar is removed, it forces one to question, who am I, and how do I fit into this place? It may be this process that reveals true identity.

Based on conversations with persons who have travelled outside of their countries, a similar experience may occur. Anytime we move through unfamiliar territory it can open new perspectives to us. I recall my daughter talking about this after a trip to Peru. She met people who had very little in the way of material possessions, yet she said they seemed so happy, were so affectionate and caring. It changed her perspective about what was really important to her.

Have you had a similar experience living or traveling in another country? Post your comments. I would love to hear about your experiences.

French Bullfights for the Faint of Heart

Course Camarguaise

In the South of France, in the western region of the Cote d’Azure, bullfights are a way of life. They are, in fact, to frenchmen, what football is to Americans.

The serious aficionados are faithful followers of the Spanish version of this sport; but for those who can’t stomach the kill at the end, the French have a milder version: the Course Camarguaise.

Recently, I visited the Arenes d’Arles to watch the Course Camarguaise, professional version, with two American girlfriends. We called it a girls night out and took great pleasure in attending a bullfight without our men tagging along. We had many laughs and gasps watching more than 100 young guys try to capture pom poms from the bulls’ horns, running around in the their white costumes, jumping fences to escape the bulls’ charges, and even ripping their pants when the bull got a piece of white fabric.

Literally translated, the Course Camarguaise is a “Camargue Race.” The participants, dressed in white slacks and shirts, enter the arena with the bull and play a game we might recognize as Capture the Flag.

In the Course Camarguaise, the bull, or toro, has a cord tied around his horns, a pom pom hanging from each horn, and a ribbon on his back to mark his earlier award in the judging of the bulls themselves. In the arena, the participants take turns approaching the bull at a run and attempting to remove the various attachments from the horns. Sponsors donate money toward the race, and the participants win the money as they “capture” the bull’s ornaments.

As the game progresses, the monetary stakes get higher, and the participants take more risks in approaching the bull.

As evidence that this is truly a sport that women can enjoy, the opening and closing ceremonies included choreographed dances and processionals from the Arlesiennes –women dressed in old-fashioned clothes and sporting parasols. The opening dances included choreography with horses and their Camarguaise Guardian. And at the end of the games, the Arlesiennes lined up with their parasols to salute the winners of the games. (Video of Arlesiennes, Arenes d’Arles, June 2013).

Arlesiennes open the ceremonies at the Course Camarguaise in Arles.

Arlesiennes open the ceremonies at the Course Camarguaise in Arles.

Here’s a link to a video that shows you the game in action:
FERIA ALÈS 2013 – Course camarguaise

Fly with the Canadians to France

After my most recent trip between the US and France, I have to plug Air Canada.

I flew this airline for the first time over the holidays, and the experience was one of the most pleasant I’ve had with an airline. Everyone was so friendly, even the security and customs officers.

The flight itself was comfortable. Like the French, Canadians still serve complimentary beverages and meals in flight. When you’re on an 8-hour flight, a glass of wine and tasty meal can make a difference in your mood. And for plane food, it was pretty tasty.

Airports, of course, are hectic; but again, this was a most pleasant airport experience, coming and going. The lines weren’t long; passing security was less stressful because the folks were so kind and helpful; customs was a breeze because the officers were even jovial and didn’t make me feel like a potential criminal.

I think passing thorough Canada was such a pleasant experience because the Canadians have such a good relationship with the French and Americans. Traveling felt like the old days before the fear of terrorists and hi-jackers. The neutrality of Canada, it seems, I evident even at their borders.

I traveled in December in the middle of snowstorms and was worried about cancelations and delays. One of the ticket agents smiled as she answered my inquiry about delays in Toronto. We’re accustomed to snow, she answered. When everyone else is grounded, we fly. I had to smile at hat one myself.

It was especially nice for me to travel with an airline and through a country that equally embraces the French and English languages. Communication was easy and we switched back and forth between the two. I was quite happy to respond ‘yes’ when airline and airport personnel smilingly asked on English: do you speak French ? They seemed pleased and usually continued in French.

The moral I this story? Consider flying Air Canada on your travels between France an the US. You might actually enjoy the long voyage.

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Just a quick trip to Monaco before the Christmas holidays. The view from the hillside was spectacular and there was a delightful Christmas market.

Roquefavour Aquaduct

Though not nearly as ancient as the Pont du Gard,the Roquefavour Aqauduct, located near Aix en Provence, is equally as impressive.

I came upon it quite by accident, driving through the mountainous countryside. In route to Aix, we circled the mountainside on a small road, steep rock on one side and a drop into the valley below on the other. And then we descended into the valley, driving through the tiny village of Coudoux along more tree-covered winding roads.

Near Ventabren, unexpectedly and majestically, three stories of stone arches appeared above us. We pulled into a small parking area to take photos. Since, I’ve read that the best way to see the aquaduct is by hiking the area. From the road the view is only briefly visible as it is surrounded by the rising rocks. This makes sense because this portion of the waterway was built to traverse the narrow Arc River valley as it continues on its way to Marseille.

The three-level water conduit stands 83 meters (272 feet) and is 393 meters (more than 1200 feet) long.

In the early 1800s, the City of Marseille suffered a drought in which many people died from cholera. They decided to draw a fresh water source from the River Durance to Marseille. Built between 1841 and 1847, it was named the Marseille Canal and supplied nearly all of the city’s water until 1970. Today it still supplies a large majority of the city’s water.

Modelled after the Pont du Gard in style, the pont is newer, but longer and taller. Like the Roman aquaducts, from its source to its destination the gradient is gradual, taking advantage of the natural downward flow of water.  Ponts were built by the Romans to traverse low-lying areas and assure a consistent gradient. Building such massive structures across deep valleys required a large amount of building materials. The Romans develop the system of building arches as supports, reducing the amount of materials needed. The result was a functional, yet magnificent piece of architecture.