Monday, November 19, 2007

So where the hell has France gone then?

The reason I ask is that I have just spent the last 3 weeks in a country that the sat nav’ insisted was France and that the bloke who welcomed me at the border confirmed was indeed France (‘Bienvenue au Francais’ he slurred) but that couldn’t possibly have been. My confusion arises from the fact that, during my visit France (and in particular the French people) smashed every clichĂ© that I had squeezed in to my luggage. To be fair here, I guess this is partly because the majority of my English preconceptions were based on only two things; the French arrogance displayed at Agincourt and a Mony Python sketch I saw once. Looking back, perhaps this wasn’t such a good frame of reference; a bit like judging the Japanese nation based solely on Pearl Harbour and a Godzilla flick (….hmm, now that’s got me thinking actually). But back to the French. I spent my time travelling through the Languedoc region in the south west; dominated by the Pyrenees and defended by countless medieval walled towns and villages, each with its own cheese and boasting the best wine in the world. Who am I to argue? At the outset, I must admit that the place did initially support my conviction that the Anglo/French war was still in progress. The steep sided valleys with their crumbling walls and sharp, forbidding peaks do make you feel unwelcome, a bit like an invader, but from the moment that you stop the car and enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine surrounded by village life, those same features suddenly feel protecting and inviting. Weird feeling really that, having to unpack all my prejudice to make room for local produce, phone numbers of new friends and leaflets of houses to buy. It was an experience that also made me think a lot harder about what I write in my novels too. I mean, is it possible that if I’m not careful I could reinforce or even create new prejudices about, for example, the people of Liverpool? More on that soon.

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