I am back from Phoenix and my head is still in the clouds. It was my very first time in the West of the United States (I have been to New York a few times, but never elsewhere before). I loved it!
It was colder than expected, especially in the mornings. Me being me, I had booked a 10k race on Saturday (i.e. a few hours after landing). You see, I don’t like to make excuses…That’s just me, I suppose. And it’s also part of the dream: I want to run in the most beautiful places on earth. And some dreams require, well, dedication. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise (I am a bit patronising today, it must be the jet lag).
The thing is, the race was starting at 8 o’clock in the morning, and we needed to leave the hotel by 7. It was too early to have breakfast. As my husband isn’t a runner (as in, not at all), he didn’t see what the problem was. Running on empty? Of course you can…Yeah, right. I ended up having to gulp a snickers bar, which wasn’t ideal. To make matters even worse, I am always a bit nervous before a race. That’s just part of the fun, isn’t it?
It had to happen, right? Spending twelve years in London was bound to leave some marks.
Today, I was near my home town, in Toulon, speaking at a conference (see the details here: paperdotcon). It was good to be back. You see, I love everything about Provence: the light, my childhood friends, the food, and the Mediterranean of course. But today, I was told (half jokingly, but still) that I had a British accent.
Me, a British accent?
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hotel had a running club. I didn’t know what to expect, because apparently they had just started it. Me being me, I was wondering whether I would be too slow. I really needed to stop being scared, but that was another story. I decided to give it a try.
I didn’t manage to get up the first day. 7.30 am was simply far too early for me, because I was still jet-lagged and had finally fallen asleep around 5 am. I managed to get up the second day. As usual, I was at least 10 minutes in advance. That, again, was just me: I might be French but I have always hated being late.
The Balinese instructor’s, Elit, arrived shortly afterwards. We were also joined by an Autralian guy, and by a British lady from Hong-Kong. Elit showed us some stretches, and we swiftly walked to the beach.
We started running. In fact, we started jogging. This was a little bit faster than a walk, but not by much. What a relief! Elit explained to us that his knee was playing up a bit, and he had to start slow. Fine by me.
I don’t know if it’s my French side, or if it’s just me. But this much I know: I can’t stop. I can’t stop learning, I can’t stop thinking, I can’t stop worrying, I can’t stop working, and I can’t stop having new ideas. Yes, I know: most of you will feel tired just reading this. Sorry.
The thing is, I am on holidays in Bali -of all places. But I still have to do a lot. I just have to. Despite the stunning sceneries, the rice paddies and the amazing art, there is always something to do. Always. Not to mention that as a mum, you are never off duty. Never. There is always a drama waiting to happen.
How do I switch off? Why can’t I switch off? I have no excuse whatsoever…
Never. It must be a French thing. I hadn’t realised that there was a bikini police, but apparently when a woman hits 35 or 40 she has to dress more conservatively. This means that we are not supposed to wear crop tops, mini skirts, or bikinis. I know that it may come to a shock to you but although I feel 25 in my head my official age says something slightly different. What can I say? Time flies. It’s part of the many unwritten rules more mature women have to follow: dress sensibly.
Seriously? Says who?
Bloody jet lag. I was tossing and turning in the hotel bed, and I ended up checking the time. 5 o’clock. Damn it. What to do? New York was still dark. I stood up and decided to prepare myself a coffee. I gulped down a few cereals – I had fallen asleep shortly after 6pm yesterday, and I was famished. I started thinking. What I badly needed was a run. Not a fast run, just a run to live and breathe New York. There was no two ways about it. I needed to go. The day was slowly starting, and the light was peeking through at the top and the bottom of the curtains. Mechanically, I started to put on my running gear. Me being me, I was a bit scared. I have always had second thoughts before starting a run. Especially in the morning. Today was no exception. This wasn’t any run: I was in new York! Was Central Park safe? What if I got lost? I squeezed 20$ in my pocket. And what if it was too warm? Or too cold? Would I need my sunglasses? I tried to shut up my inner voices. Come on, let’s jog in central Park today.
I shouldn’t have worried. Our hotel was on 8th Avenue, close to Time Square, and I started running. Jogging in New York was nothing short of incredible. If, like me, you think that the first 10 to 15 minutes of a run are excruciating, then you totally need to go to New York. You run along a block, and then you stop to cross the road. You have no choice but to wait a few seconds to recover, and you can begin to run again. Somehow it made the much-dreaded start of my run a lot easier. It was 6 o’clock and New York was already in full swing, with cohorts of tourists already walking the pavement. The various smells of the city surprised me: there was a smell of warm bins first, quickly followed by a smell of bleach. Yes, bleach. Yellow taxis were waving at me, trying to convince me that I needed a ride. Of course I didn’t. I reached Columbus Circus in no time, and quickly saw that all of New York was already walking, running or cycling in Central Park. I started to run clockwise. The buildings had vanished, I was in a forest. I had gone from urban jungle to a completely different world, full of grass and trees, and everything had happened in the space of a few seconds. It was like science fiction. There were already plenty of runners of all shapes and ages. I quickly learned that, in New York, you don’t look at each other. You don’t greet each other. You just run. You run and let run. And it was impossible to get lost, because there is a dedicated lane for runners. I just had to follow the flow. I was never alone for more than 5 seconds. Oh, and like in my good old home country (France), you ran on the right. Yep, we were not in London any more…
It all started when I found a Mongolian minister in my kitchen. Unbeknownst to me until a couple of hours before, my husband had invited some high-ranking officials to discuss yet another important business deal.
The whole episode had sent me into panic mode: what type of food would I give them? What did Mongols like? I had no idea. I therefore decided to play the French card with some champagne and canapés as aperitifs, and the menu was all about fish and colourful ingredients. You see, I like colourful, fresh dishes: there was samphire and tomatoes, sweet potatoes and French mayonnaise, salmon and cod, prawns and crabs, and rouille and mustard too. And the dessert was all about tartes tatins, eclairs au chocolat and fraisiers. They seemed a bit surprised to have fish, and I am not sure that they warmed up to samphire. They clearly preferred the lovely baguette hastily bought at my local French baker. But the desserts were a massive hit. To be fair, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like tarte tatin. Whatever the nationality, some things never change.
If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know that I went to Birmingham last Friday. I had a lovely time with food critic legend Paul Fulford and hugely talented journalist Sanjeeta Bains. But here is the whole story…
Life can be such a tease. The last time I went to Birmingham was over 10 years ago, and I must admit that I was really pleased not to have to go back. The truth was that I had had a bit of a tough time there. For instance, I will always remember the day I arrived at Birmingham. I used to work for a French company called Alstom as a Transport executive, and was assigned to help on the Pendolino project. I took a cab from the airport, where I had landed from Paris. We went straight to Washwood Heath, where the factory was. There was some sort of car boot sale going on, and sofas were lying on the street, together with old TVs, tables and chairs. The cab driver had to slalom in and out of the furniture to eventually reach our destination. What a journey, I thought to myself. Little did I know that it was only the start.
I paid the cab driver, and went to the security booth. The guard was clearly in the middle of his cup of tea, and sighed deeply when I started talking to him. He eventually called my contact in the factory:
“I have a lady from an exotic country for you at the entrance.”
Right, I thought, this will not be easy.
I think that I am now a true Brit. It is the only possible explanation, right? Hear me out: I am insanely happy to spend a few days in Provence. Seriously, what’s not to like? The light is to die for, the beaches are empty, the food is fresh, tasty and healthy, and so on, and so forth…
That said, it turns out that I seem to be the only one to be happy. Restaurant terraces are empty, and owners are grumpy because of the ever-rising taxes. Shops are desert. People don’t smile. They don’t joke. They don’t laugh.
Despite the sun and the outstanding beauty of my region, everybody was complaining about the wind today. Seriously?
I am spending a week in my home country, which is nice. And you should see the light in Provence! Priceless. On the train to Paris, we were sitting next to a group of friends. They didn’t understand why everybody kept addressing them in English. What was it that was giving away their nationality? They were baffled. They had hidden all British newspapers, and spoke good French. Impressive, right? I couldn’t help being amused. It was obvious that they were not French, if you ask me. Why? Well, should you want to try your luck and pretend you are French, there are things that we French wouldn’t do. But fear not: I have written a short list for you. In fact, the group of friends was breaching at least three of these cardinal rules (I will let you guess which ones. Hint: it shouldn’t be too difficult!)…