For the last twenty years, France has been my life, both personally and in my business. How did this happen to a young lad living on the other side of the world in New Zealand?

My father died nearly thirty years ago at a relatively young age. I adored my father. I had heard through him that I had a distant cousin living in France with the same name as him – David Reese.

Not too long after my father died I travelled to France with the purpose of finding this man with the same name as my father. I was travelling in the north of France with a friend of mine in a campervan, when I stopped at a phone booth and called France Telecom to see if they could provide me with the number of this man with a very non-French name, Reese. Surprisingly they provided me with the only “Reese” they had who was living in Corsica, an island 30 minutes by plane from the south of France.

I made the phone call, and this stranger on the other end of the phone explained that “if you want to meet me you better be quick because I leave in two days’ time to tour around Europe”. I was in the Loire Valley, and had to find a way to Nice overnight in order to get to Corsica. My travelling companion was told to make his way alone through to the south of France while I raced to Nice. Three trains later I arrived in Nice at 6am. With no time to sample croissants or fresh coffee I raced to the local port to find a boat which would take me to the port of Bastia in Corsica. I made it on to the boat just as the boat was preparing to set off. During my six hour crossing I had time to ascertain from the crew how I would find this man with the same name as my father. This would not be straight forward. On arrival in Bastia I would then need to take the famous narrow gauge railway from Bastia to Ponte Lecchia, and then another train which would take me to the attractive port town of Calvi, where my distant cousin was to meet me.

I was new to Europe, having lived in the comfort of New Zealand, where our oldest buildings were not even 150 years old. So making my way through the port town of Bastia in Corsica was an eye opener for me as I searched for the train station. Constantly passing people sitting on footpaths eating meals and drinking pastis and local wine were sights I had never seen before! I eventually caught the little train “Trinighellu”. The train had open sides, and it began by snaking its way through narrow gorges and tunnels, until it arrived at the rocky mountains running through the centre the island. Then we headed from Porte Lecchia towards the coast where the train continued following beach after beach through to the picturesque town of Calvi. The countryside was glorious, and I soon realised why Corsica was known as the “Island of Beauty”.

This is the train arriving in Calvi - getting ready to meet my man! Photo thanks to http://simplythebest84.centerblog.net

The excitement was building as the little train proceeded along the white sandy beach of Calvi, as I was now about to meet my father’s namesake, David Reese!

The train jolted to a stop on the station platform and out I stepped. The station looked completely abandoned, except that there were two men waiting, with one man at each end of the platform. Hmm, which one is David Reese? One of the men was tall, wearing light cream coloured trousers with a matching shirt which was unbuttoned almost to his tummy button, showing off a bronzed chest that had seen years of dedicated sun worshipping and healthy living, and well coiffured greying hair slicked back off his face. Indeed this man looked like Roger Moore of James Bond fame.  The man at the other end of the platform was short, with holey faded jeans and a faded flowery shirt. This man had a craggy face that had not had the care and attention of Roger Moore, and what hair was left on his head was wirey and it looked like he had just climbed out of his cave after having not washed for a week – he could be referred to as Cave Man! This couldn’t be David Reese?

I was fairly comfortable with my genetic makeup and quickly ascertained who my man was! So I walked down the platform towards Roger Moore and promptly put out my hand “so you must be David”. NO. Cave Man was my man!

David Reese turned out to be an inspiration to me and my family over the next twenty years or more, and taught me that in life you must never let anyone talk you out of anything, that you must follow your heart. Anyway, he took me to his village, Montemaggiore, perched in the hills behind Calvi.

Ten years earlier I was selected to travel for a climbing expedition to Darjeeling in the Himalayas. Before I left I had a dream about a village perched in the hills, a dream that was as vivid as being there. When I arrived in the Himalayas I was so disappointed because the village of my dreams was not this one – I had been certain that my dream was leading me to Darjeeling.

As we drove from Calvi to Montemaggiore, he drove around the valley passing villages with such musical names like Calenzana, Zillia, and Lunghignano. Then as we turned around a bend there in front of me was the village of my dreams – Montemaggiore, and I couldn’t speak as tears welled up in my eyes.

What does this mean? Could I have been here before? Have you ever had any experiences like this? Maybe I was a Frenchman in another life!?

Note: I have since been travelling almost annually to Corsica since 1985, and have escorted travellers through this island more times than I can remember. This year from 19 August I have an escorted tour starting in Ajaccio and visiting of course my village of Montemaggiore! For further information contact me at john@france.co.nz.


Of Words and Sounds

I’ve got a confession to make. Well, I have many but I won’t bore you with them all.

Although I’ve been going to France and Germany for many years my grasp of languages other than English is well… not that good.

The confusion of words - it's not always what you think!

And I think it has something to do with me misusing the French word ‘baiser’ at a family meal. To my partner’s mother. I had wanted to say ‘The meal was so good I could kiss you’.

But I said something that meant something else VERY different. (John’s note – read very bad!)

In my defence I have two things to say.

My comprehension – at least of French – is better than my spoken French and it’s not that I can’t speak French or German (or Latvian for that matter) it is just that ‘I simply haven’t learnt yet’ as one of my more positive-minded friends would say.

Which makes me sound very busy. Which I’m not anymore but like the sound of anyway.

I also like the sound of words.

On a trip to New York I sat on the subway gazing at the adverts inside the carriage. And I learnt something. The Spanish word ‘embarazadas’ means ‘pregnant’. So much more gentle than ‘schwanger’, the German equivalent. Or even the French ‘encientes.’

I imagine a shy young woman looking at the floor and hesitantly announcing her joyous state. And me getting the message wrong and thinking she was embarrassed. Which she might be. In addition to being pregnant and not directly linked to it,

Some words are just a joy to listen to regardless of their meaning.

Words such as ‘quincaillerie’ meaning a hardware shop or ‘pamplemousse’ meaning ‘grapefruit’  and ananas ‘pineapple’. ‘Pomme de terre’ and their German cousins ‘Kartoffeln’ are potatoes. Of course, for many of their vegetables the Germans use the French words.

And many German words are very descriptive. How about ‘Krankenhaus’ and ‘Lazarett’ both meaning ‘hospital’?

I love the vision of people who are feeling ‘cranky’, as they say in America, because they are unwell all being put in a house until they are better. A bit like sending a fractious child to its room. ‘And don’t come down until you are in a better mood!’

And at the other end of the scale people being resurrected Lazarus-like from the Lazarett.

As for ‘Rathaus’. I think it’s an inspired choice for ‘town hall’ with all the political shenanigans that can go on there.

Such wonderfully sounding and descriptive words.

And there’s more…

Mother-in-law and father-in-law become ‘belle-mère’ and ‘beau-père’, proclaiming the aesthetic qualities of your spouse, the prodigy of a beautiful mother and a handsome father.

What about the sound of ‘Un ver de terre en verre vert’?  Although who would find a use for such a sentence is beyond me at the moment.

And as many of you will know better than I, one doesn’t say the ‘Sun was setting’. Rather the sun was sleeping.  (Le soleil se couchait).

And  rivers don’t burst their banks. They get out of their beds. (La rivière sortit de son lit.)

And then there is the strange way in some nouns and titles of organisations have to be the other way around. For instance ‘walkie-talkie’ becomes ‘talkie-walkie’ NATO is OTAN in French and the United States (of America) becomes the Etats-Unis (d’Amérique).

Ah… Vive la difference!

(Article kindly written by Richard Maddox from the UK, a lover of history, words and sounds, and… who knows what else he’s hiding!)

As there are a number of Spanish speakers who read this blog, do you have expressions that are colourful, or where you have to pronounce a word carefully so as not to have the wrong meaning? What’s your word for potato or hospital?!

For another interesting article on languages you could check out:

Formula for Learning

My heart is heavy, my whole body feels heavy. I am sad.

William is the son of our friends. He was a young man in his early 20s. He was handsome, sporty, personable, well educated, and utterly charming. He was the sort of guy you’d want to come home with your daughter. But this weekend Will ended his life.

As a teenager he developed a problem with alcohol, and then alcohol and drugs. With the support of his family he agreed that something must be done about his problem. He visited Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), accepted he had a problem and over the last few years, has fought valiantly against his problems. He hasn’t been on his own doing this. His family have been right with him on this journey. His step-father Richard has loved and supported Will as if each hour were the last. Every day Richard has driven Will to his AA meeting, sometimes when on holidays he has driven him four hours just so that they could attend a meeting of support.

Will was so brave.  He was kind. He spoke to groups of impressionable school boys of his problems, urging them, begging them to make the right decisions in life. He helped to change the attitudes of young men. But in the end it was too much for Will.

What can we do? What can we learn? If we see problems what do we do about it? We must spread Will’s story to the impressionable young out there, the young around you. We are all responsible – you and me.

Please don’t write any comments to this message. Just pray for Will and his family – to give them the strength to get through the following days and weeks.

When I say “French Cinema” what do you think of?

It’s probably not Luis Bunuel’s bizarrely fantastic Un Chien Andalou or the haunting violence bubbling on the surface of Guillaume Canet’s Ne Le Dis à Personne that you’re thinking about, right?

Nope. I knew it!…I know you’re all thinking about all those lovely naked girls on a balcony in the fifth arrondissement, daintily smoking their cigarettes after a strenuous afternoon making love by the open window. You may laugh, but I know that’s how many people see the French cinema. And in some sense, there’s nothing wrong with that…

Whether we like it or not, we all have a certain voyeurism that pulses through our bloodstreams. We are enthralled by the lives of others. We go to the cinema to step out of our lives for a hundred minutes or so and into someone else’s. Whether it’s out of our own insecurities, fear, jealousy, hope, triumphs or failures, we go to the movies to do just that; to take a peek at someone else’s life.

This year the fifth annual French Film Festival bursts onto the New Zealand screens to, quite simply, celebrate the lives of others – the meals they cook, the music they listen to, the people they kiss, the heavy heartache, the happiness, and the bizarre volatility of their lives and ours in this world we live in. The magical thing about this festival is that we can discover a bit about someone else by escaping into another culture. Let’s face it, there’s nothing that a pinch of excitement, emotion, and amour can’t solve.

From Canet’s star-studded ‘dramedy’ Little White Lies, to Michel Gondry’s intimate The Thorn in the Heart, to the sugar-coated chick-flick All That Glitters – there’s certainly a little snippet of life for everyone at the French Film Festival this year. There’s a range of characters to fall in love with (pity Canet’s behind the camera), as well as their love for life, and commitment to family values and living.

I know for a fact that I will never become a Burlesque dancer. But in the dazzling, award-winning On Tour (Tournée) the fabulous Mathieu Almaric gives me a magical two and a half hours to catch a glimpse of what life could have been, had I chosen that particular path. For that mere twelfth of my day I forget about the deadlines at work, what to cook for dinner, and the dire state of my bank balance, and I become a girl transported into the wings of a world bursting with colour, imagination, and exuberance.  That, my friends, is the magic of cinema. So, go and get your tickets to the Festival today to step out of your shoes and into someone else’s. “La France va vous ADORER!”

L’Oréal Paris presents the fifth annual French Film Festival

Wellington: February 8 – 17 at the Penthouse Cinema

Auckland: February 16 – 24 at the Academy Cinema and Victoria Picture Palace

Christchurch: February 22 – March 2 at the Regent on Worcester

Ticket prices and screening times can be found here.

Or follow the Festival on Twitter.

Article written by: Sarah Reese, Festival Coordinator, French Film Festival 2011

Other articles by Sarah just click on this link.

Tournee – On Tour by Mathieu Almaric

A traveller busy on her iPhone in the Paris metro!

Both the Interior Ministry and the local Paris train company (RATP) have warned that in the Paris metros there has been a large increase in pick-pocketing. An increase of 40% of reported thefts over the last year has astounded the French Interior Minister, Monsieur Hortefeux.

Of the reported thefts the majority of stolen items have been smartphones and in particular the iPhone. The Minister has encouraged the RATP to warn travellers of the risk of pick-pockets in the metros, as well as discussed with product providers whether there is a way of remotely and quickly disabling the use of stolen phones to make them worthless for subsequent operation.

In any major city such thefts are always a major issue and tourists in particular seem to have a “she’ll be right attitude” when touring around Paris. My family and I have observed on many occasions thieves in action. I hear often from my readers and travellers in Paris that they are safe carrying their handbags across their shoulders. However I have personally seen a number of handbags just ripped away from people before the thieves disappear in to the crowd. Once on Blvd St Germain near the St Germain metro stop a businessman was carrying his briefcase strapped across his shoulder and under his arm – a thief grabbed the bag and just continued pulling the man along the road until the strap broke and the thief disappeared with the bag including his computer into the metro never to be seen again!

Not everyone waits for their metro this way!

I always say to people to be security conscious. For men, never carry a credit card or too much money in your wallet – credit cards and excess cash should be carried in a security belt under your clothes. For ladies remember that a handbag is not secure – in fact it would be the least secure of anything! Now that you know that Smartphones are such a target, make sure you keep these well out of way – after all we don’t want thieves picking Apples in the Paris metro!!

But Paris is beautiful – enjoy it safely!

It’s 6pm in the afternoon. A warm summer afternoon. My favourite time!

I’m sitting on a fine golden sand beach. I’m wearing swimming togs and a smile, with my wife. The sun is still high in the sky as we look across the bay from Tata Beach, in Golden Bay to the north of the South Island of New Zealand.

Across the bay we have waterskiers and jet skiers carving the water as we just sit!! Just sit! My perfect way of welcoming the New Year and discussing our travel plans for the year. My wife has just run across the hot sand with two large glasses – one a Gin and Tonic for me, and she’s poured a brandy for herself. This is heaven.

We’re lucky to have had our children with us as well, along with my daughter’s special friend from Paris. My daughter’s friend left us a week ago now after a rapid twelve day visit from France. He left here with a well-tanned face, a very pink sunburnt back (which is peeling now!) and confused memories of Christmas and New Year in the summer sun and heat of New Zealand. Now he’s back home and having minimum temperatures of minus 3 Celcius, and snow has again been settled on the Eglise St Severin opposite our Paris apartment. He experienced and was confused by our Christmas dinner which we traditionally have at midday, but which was delayed until later in the afternoon because it was too hot – but after setting up some sun shades we could commence! No mulled wine is served at our house here, rather chilled Champagne, wine and beer. With temperatures over Christmas and New Year being close to 30 degrees (Celcius) different between France and New Zealand you are certainly going to experience some changes. Some people just don’t think it right that Christmas dinner could be spent on the beach in your speedos! Whereas for NZers they can’t imagine heading off to midnight mass in all your winter clothes being careful not to slip in the ice. Traditional events seem so different when placed out of context in a different environment. When has someone in Paris seen Father Christmas in shorts and a T shirt!?

So even though I’m sitting here with sand between my toes in the heat of the late afternoon sun planning the year ahead, I have friends doing similar things like Caz and Craig on the beaches of NSW Australia, or people like Robin in the cold of Tarifa in southern Spain, or Mark exploring the depths of Tanzania, or Catherine in New York , or Julia in Turkey, or Jool who is freezing in Edinburgh! Everyone at a different place in time, night or day, hot or cold, planning their futures.

Meanwhile the ice is melting in my glass!

Best wishes to you all for the New Year!

Tata Beach holiday perfection!

Time for my G&T on the beach. I'll be back in the office soon!

This is the view from our beachfront house! You should all try and come here! Perfection!

Christmas Greetings

The Christmas tree lights are blinking at me. The presents are impatiently waiting under the tree. The fridge is full of Champagne! 

Tonight in Paris (24th) the presents will finally be opened, and the Christmas feast will be devoured before well satisfied stomachs will make their way to midnight Mass. The magic of Christmas has arrived, and this gives me the chance to

 Wish you and your loved ones

A Merry Christmas

and All the Best

for the Holiday Season

Thanks for joining me on my travels through France during the year, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in 2011. For those travelling over the next weeks I wish you a happy and safe journey. For 2011 I hope that you have lots of safe and wonderful travel adventures.

Sur cette vieille de Noel je profite de ce blog de vous présenter tous mes meilleurs vœux pour le Noel et pour une soirée d’exception entourée par vos proches. Pendant le nouvel an j’espère que vous faites des découvertes magiques n’importe où dans le monde, et j’attendrai bien de partager avec vous mes histoires et mon passion pour la France en 2011.

Christmas Decorations in Galleries Lafayette

A shop window near Rue des Abbesses, Montmartre

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