The feeling of away


books france journal language travel

I’ve been away from home for just over a week now. I’ve been in France. When I’m not in the UK I feel a lot less claustrophobic; I feel like I have such a wider range of choices to choose for my life. An advantage of this trip has been spending time with people who actually live in not-the-UK. I believe to some extent that people are the same everywhere but it’s been nice to see the variations in the patterns of a life. To stereotype, in France I’m talking about long lunches, cheese, and drinking like a grown up rather than in destructive and socially enforced world record attempts.

The other thing is languages. I have always loved languages and I’ve lazily assumed they have always loved me too, ie. that I was quite good at picking things up. However, the last several days of visiting France with a Swiss woman whose family variously live in, have lived in, or are fluent in the native languages of: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Peru, and the list goes on… well it’s always humbling. My English, my once-confident and now atrophied French, my schoolboy Spanish, and my fledging, absolutely crap German — they’re all I have. In the UK that’s quite something, here that’s a little embarrassing to me, even when you’re spending time with the kindest fluent English-amongst-others speakers of all time. Anyway, my little resolution to myself is to channel the shame of my monoculture upbringing into motivation to keep slogging away at German and naturalising my French at the very least.

I’m working remotely this week but last week I was completely out-of-office in Paris. I did a really pleasing amount of the things that weigh on me when I’m letting myself down: running and reading. I must have read about four books in a week, all modern fiction. I haven’t been updating my watching and reading pages on the website because my system for doing so is a bit broken. Nevertheless, the books I’ve read since coming away are:

  • Whore of New York by Liara Roux
  • A Ship-wrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • How To Blow Up A Pipeline by Andreas Malm
  • The Ministry For The Future by Helen Thomas Anderson
  • Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
  • Animal by Lisa Taddeo

I suppose that’s seven books, not four. That’s what you get when you travel by train a lot, from London to Paris, around the Paris Metro and then down to the Loiret from Paris. Also it helps that I loaded all of these books onto my Kindle so I could slip them all into my coat and carry them around all day. I might be a convert, for travel purposes anyway.