Farewell to Tramayes

Dear Mum,

With less than a week to go, I’m already feeling homesick for Tramayes.

The French for ‘I miss Tramayes’ is ‘Tramayes me manque‘. Literally, ‘Tramayes lacks me’. I love that the French translation hands the active verb over to the object of my affection. I think you’ll find that interesting too.

Tramayes

I’ve already written a love letter to this small village in the south of Burgundy. You get a mention in there somewhere too. I know this will both astonish and delight you.

Read more

I seem to be a bit of a novelty around here.

The free-range Australienne with the sunhat. Or possibly that eccentric writer who sometimes does aeroplanes with her hands when she’s roaming down a quiet country lane listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral in her ear buds. Occasionally my solitary antics are witnessed, owing to the aforementioned earbuds blocking out the sound of cars (and occasionally tractors) approaching me from behind.

I have been spotted wandering dangerously on the verge of a busy road at 8am – I was impressed with the forensic nature of this infringement notice – by someone with whom I had sipped Apérol a few weeks ago. Today she drove up behind me on a country road to tick me off about my prior misdemeanour. I felt cared for rather than chastised.

On at least two other occasions, I have been wandering along with my back pack and carry bags full of groceries – no aeroplanes this time – and strangers driving by have slowed down to offer me a lift to wherever I happen to be going.

J’aime marcher,’ I say.

The locals find it hard to believe that I like to walk. But we smile at each other and wish each other une bonne journée. Another transaction of mutual goodwill that puts a spring in my step the rest of the way home.

Those are some of the reasons I love Tramayes. Here are some more:

1. Apéro can take place any time after 11am.

Friday is market day in the village and you’d be surprised what thirsty work early morning shopping can be. And who you might bump into who is similarly parched.

2. French children and adolescents say bonjour to strangers even if their parents aren’t around.

They are also included in dinner parties and soirées, sitting at the table and contributing to the conversation. I suspect this is the case throughout France.

3. Everyone says bonjour madame when they pass you in the street.

They are often keen for a chat if you can string more than two French words together in reply, mistaking you for someone who is fluent in French. I do a lot of smiling and nodding and afterwards wonder what on earth we were talking about.

4. Everyone says a general cheery ‘Bonjour, ‘sieurs ‘dames‘ when they walk into the small village supermarket.

This is short for ‘Bonjour messieurs et mesdames‘ and is another example of good manners mixed with inclusivity. I’ve started doing it myself.

5. Once inside the supermarket, one can feel free to ask the opinion of any random shopper of any product.

A crowd will soon gather, the merits of one product over another will be discussed in forensic detail and friendships will be made. You may, as I did, end up going home with yeast (levure de boulanger) instead of baking powder (levure chimique). A brisk walk back to the supermarket soon solved the problem and this time I learned about the merits of whole versus powdered nutmeg.

6. Older women – and possibly men – are not invisible.

They are treated with respect, especially by their grandchildren – of any age – who seem to enjoy close bonds with their grandparents and seek out their company.

7. The thunderstorms are cataclysmic.

There can be rolling thunder for hours before a single fat drop of rain heralds a downpour. But when the storm hits, it hits with house-rattling intensity. On a similar note, jet fighters perform random flyovers low and fast, their supersonic roar heralding the end of days. They vanish from view within seconds and life as we know it continues.

8. Queuing here is an art form.

At the market the butcher is happy to chat and joke with a customer even after she has paid for all her purchases. He does exactly the same with the next customer. The queue builds up but no one seems to mind. I held up the line in the post office to discuss the merits of buying a pre-paid 5kg box to ship home to Australia compared with sending any old random box and paying per kg. No one in the queue behind me seemed to mind. (NB. Buy pre-paid every time.)

On the flip side, don’t commit the faux pas of popping your head into the fruitshop back room and saying ‘coucou‘ to get someone’s attention after standing at the counter for five minutes. It will not be appreciated. You should wait meekly at the counter hoping someone will see you there. Which they eventually will.

9. Tramayes is un village renouvable (recyclable).

Everyone takes their rubbish to large enclosed bins. The black bin is for household rubbish, the yellow bin is for packaging. Glass goes in another bin. (Of that more later.) You must take care to place the correct items in the correct bin. It is rumoured that those caught not doing so are made to eat their own rubbish.

Glass bottles go into a very large communal bin in a public parking space in the village. I tend to deposit mine in the early hours when no one is around. This walk of shame involves carrying all my empties in a shopping bag – try doing that without clinking glass at every step – and hiding in the long shadows of every house I pass en route to the bin. Once there, I shoot each bottle individually into the hole provided, the sound of splintering glass drowning out the early morning birdsong. I then fold up my shopping bag and conceal it on my person, then decamp with haste, whistling an innocent tune all the way home.

Dawn over Tramayes

So Mama, I’ve told you all the reasons why I came to France. Tramayes is one of the reasons it will be hard to leave. But I’ve got a few adventures to go between now and then.

À la prochaine fois.

Ta fille aimante,

Ib

Letter from France – The downside of travel #1

Getting from one place to the next

Dear Mum,

I don’t have to convince you there’s a downside to overseas travel. You tried it once and didn’t like it. Not one bit. I think it was mainly because you thought it was a holiday and Dad thought it was a business trip. You did look chic in Paris though.

Black and white image of a woman in a coat boarding a boat
Read more

I’m a late-in-life travel evangelist – the worst kind.

But I’m never going to convert you so I’ll just tell you my thoughts and we will have a most rewarding to-and-fro about it. Because even though you have no intention of ever travelling again, you will listen, reflect and gently give your opinion if asked.

The flights, the trains, the taxis – so much can go wrong. As you know, I am geographically challenged. Anne and I inherited it from you, and it’s so severe it has been referred to by various in-laws – we know who they are – as a disability. It’s never occurred to me to be ashamed of it, although a friend once applauded me for not caring.

I couldn’t tell you where Burgundy is on a map, even if I studied it for some time.

I simply wouldn’t retain it. Google maps and public transport signs tell me where I have to be and at what time. The first downside of train travel is the electronic timetable gremlin, who likes to keep the weary traveller on tenterhooks regarding their actual departure platform.

Despite that, I found my way without incident to the Gare de Lyon, and to Platform 19, carriage 11, seat 62. And what a comfortable seat it was. I will have to do some divesting of belongings though Mum. I can’t rely on kind young men to lift my case on to and off trains forever. And in one case to rearrange the suitcase section so my monster could nestle safely among its little friends. But once my Samsonite and I were settled, it was a breeze all the way to Macon-Loché TGV.

The tray table of a train with a bottle of water, a baguette and a newspaper

Every time I catch the TGV I have a brief moment of sheer panic.

It happens when the driver announces in French that the train is going to Milan. Or Timbuktu. Or somewhere other than the destination I’m after. I’ve learned to breathe through that first announcement and wait for the English version.

I arrived 90 minutes later at my destination station with nary a taxi in sight. I’ve decided to go car-less because a) I don’t fancy driving on the opposite side of the road this time and b) it will tether me to my home base and hopefully to my laptop.

There’s a strange gadget at the local TGV station that lists various taxis and their mobile numbers.

An old fashioned taxi register at the TGV train station

My first attempt to call one of the numbers elicited a flat no. My second resulted in an offer to pick me up if I didn’t mind sharing. At least I was pretty sure that was the offer. It turned out I was right and I met a lovely Indian man who runs some corporation or other in Macon.

He wants to write the story of his life but says he can’t write. So we exchanged contact details – I said I’m sure I could find a ghostwriter for him. That’s the kind of misplaced self-confidence you have after spending a week with a high powered New York literary agent. (What was I thinking?)

I fear I was ripped off by the taxi driver.

I’m sorry to think ill of any Frenchman as you know but for the second time in a week I was charged about $170 for a 25 minute taxi ride. C’est la vie maman. I told you there was the occasional downside to travel.

My travel preference is to arrive somewhere and prop for a while. I’m certainly doing that this time. Seven weeks without wheels. My feet are taking me where I need to go, treading the well worn path between chez moi and the village boulangerie for my morning baguette, and the occasional ramble further afield before the day warms up. It’s just as idyllic as it sounds Mum.