Friday, June 14, 2024

Returning to France - liberté, égalité, fraternité

As we prepare to visit France yet again later this year, I had to ask myself why I find it so fascinating. Part of the reason is the influence French culture has had in so many areas. Part of the reason concerns a story told about Zhou Enlai, the former Premier of China. Asked by Kissinger what he thought were the long term effects of the French Revolution, he replied ‘it’s too soon to tell’. Even though it seems he was referring to the student uprising of May 1968, the truth is his answer could more accurately be a reference to the original French Revolution. I am very fond of a long term view – which seems particularly Chinese.

As we prepare to visit Europe again later this year, after a hiatus of over four years due to the pandemic, I was thinking about why I enjoy going to France so much. It’s not just because the buildings are so old and the food and wine is fabulous and you’re surrounded by a sense of the importance of culture. It’s not even because of some of the historic connections between Australia and France, amongst which is the story of Villers-Bretonneux, a small French village, which after being protected by Australian soldiers during World War I, put a sign up in the village school, saying ‘Never forget Australia’ and which still celebrates ANZAC day every year.

Surrounded by a sense of the importance of culture - Societe des Poetes Francais

It also helps that I spent six years at high school in Tasmania learning French. I can still say 'J’ai étudié le Francais pendant six ans a l’ecole', even if I can't say much else. What I can do quite well is read French, so I get by with signs and labels in museums. I was very pleased when once, staying in Vaison-la-Romaine, destination of choice of many Parisian holidaymakers, I managed to ask for directions in French at the local Mairie (town hall) when we had to move our car early the next morning because a large market that blocked all roads was about to take place.