Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Est ce qu'il est un joli chat?

This is Sid, known in our house as the cat who can do no wrong. 

He regularly upends the milk carton to drink the spillage, wrecked an expensive sofa with his scratching, and broke oh so many precious things in his nocturnal pursuit of geckos, yet his sheer loveliness buys him protection from our wrath.

No wonder then, that we were willing to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to bring him with us from Sri Lanka.

Importing a pet into Europe is not easy. Rightly so in the case of animals we have picked up off the streets of Asia. When Sid first arrived he could fit in the palm of my hand, had a tail like a piece of chewed string and a belly so full of worms he had rest his tum on the floor to sit down. He is still a little bandy around the back legs as a consequence.

So to prepare him for transition from street urchin to civilized house cat, we had him vaccinated, microchipped, wormed and blood tested in accordance with the minefield of EU legislation. I sought advice from all corners, fretted over the competence of the Sri Lankan vets, spent many nights imagining being confronted with the stony face of French customs refusing my beloved cat entry on account of an irregularity in his paperwork. When the certificate of rabies antibodies came back from the lab in Scotland (where the blood had been couriered at vast expense) I choked back a tear. It was an emotional rollercoaster.

When the night came around that we checked him on to the flight at Bandaranaike International Airport, I was wrung out. 

Emirates Airline were lovely. The captain of our connecting flight came to my seat to tell me the cat was well and he was keeping the hold nice and warm for him. I clutched his hand and sobbed my thanks.

At Charles de Gaulle, we waited anxiously by the carousel for Sid to appear along with the pushchairs and surf boards of our fellow passengers.

Then came the moment we had been preparing for for six months. Balanced on the top of our suitcases, Sid shivered in his cage. Checking his papers one last time, I took a deep breath and walked towards customs. Show time.

Two large Douaniers stood near the exit. Neither moved a muscle. I asked what I should do with the cat.

The reply was a gallic shrug. They waved me through.

Then, as an afterthought, one of them stepped forward and asked:

'Est ce qu'il est joli?'

Bienvenue en France Sid!


A curious thing happened at the market this morning. 

Today's was the real thing, the sustaining event of the local week through the long, dark, winter months. The nitty gritty of the market way of life, there to provide the daily bread and the meeting point for the local community. 

We are just emerging from winter so the large, rambling marches I have been accustomed to on my many holiday visits to the area are still in hibernation. There were the mainstays, the veg stalls, the cheese van, the man with all kinds of saucisson; and in addition a few more seasonal entrepreneurs, the woman selling her home grown onions alongside walnuts presumably from her garden; the lady embossing your name onto a colourful leather wrist band; the old couple selling hats. 

And in amongst it all was my favourite clothes seller.

In the past, when I have been a tourist in these parts, I have fallen upon this particular stall with alacrity. I love the clothes, the style, the chic, the je ne sais quoi. I climb in and out of the back of the vendor's van to try on whole collections. Draped linen, sassy coloured prints, bohemian tops, dresses, trousers that all cry out 'wear me and the world will know you have chutzpah!' Last summer, I found a cream linen jacket that hangs in fullsome folds and swings with the breeze as I walk. I love it so much, I had another one made in blue.

So what was curious this morning was that I found myself fondling the new Spring collection but with no desire to buy, not even to try anything on.

Since arriving here a few weeks ago to start our life as CostArmoricains, I have felt a sense of true homecoming. I have unpacked the treasures we locked away four years ago. I am surrounded by objects that inspire contentment in me - ceramics my daughter made in primary school, paintings by my mother, all the notebooks I have filled over the years, the table my grandparents ate off, flowers from my garden. I have rediscovered my winter clothes, (mothballed for the duration of our stay in Sri Lanka), and the joy of wearing velvet. 

True, there is much to do on the house, and there are things I could acquire that would make daily life much easier. I look forward to the arrival of our shipment from Sri Lanka in the next few weeks. But the nagging sense that something is missing, and that this void can only be filled with more stuff is evaporating.

It is as if I have unwrapped the ultimate gift. I have enough.