punkheid: (Sunrise through the hills)
[personal profile] punkheid
It's a bit mind-boggling to realise that I've been living here for five months already o.o This has been an invalubale pause in my life - I've stopped running along while holding together everything with string and masking tape, and instead stopped and let it all fall out of my head, and that's meant that I've been(/am) a bit crazy and not particularly useful to anyone, but I've always had to make a mess before I can tidy properly (and there's nothing wrong with a bit of craziness now and then). I'm trying to spring clean my mind and my lifestyle, because I don't want to just keep distracting myself by reading fanfic while ignoring the fact that there is something within myself which I need to fix, or at least understand.

3rd March: I'm sitting by the open window, looking onto our little ivy-covered courtyard, listening to church bells ringing in the distance, with sunlight filtering in alongside that soft air current that makes you feel as though you could wrap yourself up in it or use it float up onto the rooftops. It's like the stereotypical beginning of a nostalgic French film. This is how I imagined life here.

The goal of running away to France to escape the weight of expectations and obligations in Edinburgh has been semi-fulfilled: without these things to keep me staggering on, my stress sort of exploded from its confines, which has been incredibly unpleasant but ultimately necessary, as it was inevitably going to happen at some point, and I'm lucky to have this time in which to analyse it, work out why I feel this way and how to change things for the better. I imagined that we'd move here and I'd immediately begin spending my days in relaxation and happiness, having magically transformed into the person whom I'd like to be. One of the important realisations that I've had here is that there is no such instantaneous fix, and that this is actually ok - "life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful" (Annette Funicello, apparently). Like a great many other people, I tend to try to do everything at once, get everything perfect, in order to show others, by ticking off a list of accomplishments, that my choices and my self are legitimate, that I'm worthwhile and good enough. I want to stop doing things this way; I want to respect and believe in myself; I want to ask for respect and support from other people and feel that I deserve them, instead of constantly trying to justify myself and what I'm thinking because I'm scared of being branded self-centred or ignorant or ungrateful for what I have. Getting to that point will probably be a mix of actually changing myself so that I become someone whom I can respect and like, and diminishing my self-loathing, which is probably skewing my self-perception. At the moment, I feel optimistic about this, particularly as I am realising that one thing I find admirable in other people is their perseverence in that arduous stage in the middle of the road, where you're not proud of yourself because you haven't yet 'succeeded'. The self-love tag at StopHatingYourBody (and really the whole blog, being as it is about moving towards accepting yourself); the general philosophy of strength, independence, and self-respect (as well as portraits of inspiring women) at Fit and Feminist; and some of the posts at Jezebel have been helping me.

16th March: I felt as though a great bubble of happiness was coming up through my chest, filled with sunlight and green grass and summer trees and music and delicious food and doing little things just to make each other happy, spending time like it's a free currency and not even noticing, just reading and cooking and having sex and being happy to keep in touch with friends, feeling love and smiling all the time and not being tired or afraid. And that bubble didn't make it all the way to the surface, because between it and the surface is a hard grey casing of stress and forgetting about the important things, dreams and happiness and life. But at least the bubble is there.

It was only about a month ago that I finally felt at home here, glad to be living in the South of France rather than anywhere else, having started to make the small connections of daily life: I buy local vegetables at the market from a woman with incredible pink lipliner, and my fruit from a Moroccan-looking guy, and they remember me; we get our bread and pastries from the nearby bakery, and the girls are always happy to see us and proud of us when we order in good French, correcting us sort of teasingly if it's a bit dodgy; the grumpy woman with the injured dog who used to glare at me when we passed one another while I was running by the canal first began smiling at me and now says "bonjour;" I took a month-long intensive French course, and I finally managed to have a real, no-stress conversation with the concierge of our building and find out all about her six daughters; the other people on my course were (are) awesome, making sure to include me and just being interesting, interested, and genuinely nice, rather than expecting something of me. In the previous months, almost the only people I'd been meeting were bureaucrats who didn't care about anything other than whether I'd filled in the several thousand forms in the correct order, so this turn around has been infinitely reassuring: there are lots of amazing people in France after all :o !

My New Year's resolution was to do some things that have no obvious benefit to anyone but myself. So far this has entailed running, reading, various quite casual muscle-building exercices, writing, taking things slowly, and taking the time to find out what I really enjoy doing. Stacia was always the 'cooking one', so it's taken me a while to notice that I actually really love it myself - I love planning out our week of meals based on what vegetables and fruits are in season, experimenting with stuff I've never eaten before, trying to creatively make sure we get enough protein. This has been helped by this seriously amazing cookbook that I got for my birthday: Veggiestan, a collection of vegetarian Middle Eastern dishes. Every single thing I've made from there has been amazing, I'm seriously considering sending her fanmail. The flavours meld together subtly to create something new and incredible, and are totally different to anything I've ever cooked or eaten before...

Spring is already here *__* The sky is cloudless, the wisteria outside our window is budding, birds are nesting in the ivy, cherry trees are blossoming, we can sit by the river in the warmth, watching the sunlight glinting on the water. There's still a coolness in the air, but it's currently below freezing and snowing in Scotland x.x That will be seriously difficult to get re-used to, if and when we move back.

Christmas with our mums was fun :D It got a bit stressful at times, with all four of us packed into our tiny flat and the occasional inadvertent hitting of nerves, but we had some lovely moments of camaraderie, making really stupid jokes while playing Scrabble and laughing our heads off as we took silly photos in piles of Christmas-cracker paper hats. We took it pretty easy, just going to our favourite cafés and restaurants, a few art galleries, the Christmas market for mulled wine, churros, and aligot (this seriously amazing Christmas-time meal of mashed potatoes, garlic, and cheese, ahhh, so delicious), lots of little shops. We tried out a few French traditions, mostly food-related (:D), and one which will definitely continue is the one - apparently originally from Provence but I think now practised throughout the country - of having thirteen desserts on Christmas Eve: as well as the marzipan cherries, crystallised blueberry/peach puree, candied chestnuts, hazelnuts, raspberry nougat, candied kumquats, sugared clementines, candied orange peel, dates, and walnuts above, we had spiced orange cake, macarons, and chocolate bark, plus the separate tradition of sweet muscat drunk at midnight. *__*

We did do one trip outwith the city while they were here, to Carcassonne, which was pretty epic. We just spent hours wandering around the battlements, the castle itself, the tiny winding streets all over the place, the cathedral within the walls. The atmosphere was amazing - it was easy to realise that generations of people had lived and died there, with the brooding walls looming above and the stony pathways below.

Our mums left a few days after Christmas, and we made our way to Alès (small town East of us, near the Cévennes mountain range and the cities of Nimes and Montpellier) to spend the days over New Year with our French friend P. and her parents, which was brilliant. One of her best friends from university days was staying as well, and we had yet more delicious food (ahhh that chestnut-cream Yule log...) and just talked and laughed until 3am about everything and nothing. We walked in the typical-South-of-France countryside, and it was so refreshing to get out of the city for a while, away from the claustrophic rush and impatience. Her parents were so nice to us, and it felt like running away to a safe haven, partially because I think that's how she sees it, and partially because these were just some people accepting and welcoming us unconditionally, like they were taking us under their wing as well. Unlike the last time we visited them, a few years ago, our French is good enough now to be able to properly talk to them, actually joke around, and that was also really exciting - I think I underestimated how important (semi-)mastery of the language is for us to feel connected here, even though that seems obvious now.

Bonus photo of the scarf my mum knitted for Stacia's mum! Viewed straight-on, it appears to be a perfectly normal stripy scarf, but at the right angle... the Tardis appears! :D
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