all good things

Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull’s ‘All good things: from Paris to Tahiti, life and longing‘ chronicles her journey from the City of Light to an island synonymous with paradise. The move is the result of a job transfer, but was eagerly embraced following a period of creative and professional stagnancy.

Perhaps because of her relatability, Sarah Turnbull’s previous memoir ‘Almost French‘ stood out from other “Anglophone moves to Paris and discovers great food, bewildering cultural differences, inner joie de vivre, and the secret of French style” tomes that were pretty popular a few years back. But ‘All good things’ is a different sort of book than ‘Almost French’. While it explores cultural differences from an astute and honest perspective, there’s less lightness and humor and, perhaps, deeper reflection. I admit that the sections detailing scuba diving and the natural wonders of the island had my eyes glazing over bit, but I was wholly captivated by the sections that dealt with longing: for inspiration, understanding, and new life.

I was moved by Sarah’s descriptions of the complexity of feelings that arise when facing what seem to be (and sometimes are) insurmountable barriers between herself and motherhood. She is also adept at capturing the isolation and claustrophobia that can be just as potent to life on an island as the dreamy sunsets and glorious flora. The Polynesians Sarah befriends are also vividly rendered; kind, generous, and open, they represent the beauty of Tahiti as much as warm breezes off a glimmering, turquoise sea.

Mont-St-Michel

April 21, 2013

Mont-St-Michel

Mont-St-Michel is an occasional island in Normandy, France that is so stunning it’s worth battling the hordes inching their way up the Grand Rue to reach La Merveille (“the miracle”). The three tiers of thirteenth century buildings surrounding an abbey topped with a golden statue of Saint Michael, his posture combative, are indeed a marvel and a vision of strength and simplicity.

crowded Grand Rue

In summer, the Mont is crowded with tourists arriving by bus or car before making their way across the ramparts to clog the streets on their slow journey up to the abbey, whose spire dramatically crowns the Mont.

Hotel Croix Blanche

A cacophony of voices in innumerable languages mingle their way up and up. “Doucement, doucement,” French mothers advise small children and they climb the old stone steps: softly, softly.

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The Abbey moves closer into view.

from the abbey at Mont-St-MichelAlong the way are glimpses are calm, stark beauty.

abbey at Mont-St-MichelFinally, the abbey. The Eglise Abbatiale doesn’t impress with ornate stained glass or artwork. In fact, it is surprisingly sparse and simple and quiet and, like a sudden silence after constant, unrelenting noise it calls the pilgrim to attention and contemplation.

cloisters at Mont-St-Michel

The cloisters provide another opportunity for contemplation, and a welcome bit of green: lush life among all the stone and sand.

from the abbey on Mont-St-Michel Pilgrims, having earned a rest, gaze out at the bay and the ocean beyond.

evening at Mont-St-MichelAs darkness falls the Grand Rue slowly empties, the tourists retreating. Those who remain are treated to the magic of a medieval monument, a wonder, a miracle.

We stayed on the Mont, at the Hotel Croix Blanche, in August. The Mont was heavily, heavily touristed at that point, and our stay was only bearable because we had the Mont nearly to ourselves after dark. In the early morning, we again climbed up to the abbey, this time by ourselves, lingering at the bay views and admiring the tiny, winding streets.

monp (3) Cemeteries are filled with dramas and tragedies, but mostly love stories. 

monp (5)On a sunny summer’s day at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, the memorials are evocative and only a little melancholy.  Two hands gently intertwine around a cross, fingers barely brushing. monp (7)Sun spills in through the treetops onto the neatly ordered, wide allées.  monp (10)A testament to the pain of crushing grief and sorrow is beautiful in its own right…

monp (9)…as is an image of soaring hope.


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During short winter days, when the sun shines weakly, Paris is all soft grays and pastels.

DSCN4274There’s a haze and hush in the air, and a chill…

DSCN4289…but that doesn’t deter a game of boules in Montmartre.

DSCN4446There’s a particular beauty to Paris when it shivers.

Identity Crisis

January 21, 2013

One of the supposed cultural differences between French and Americans is the manner in which strangers make small talk. I’m generalizing here, but apparently an American will end any and every introduction with “And what do you do?” while a French person wants to know who you are. The implication is that the French understand a person’s identity is more than what they do to make a living.

It’s ironic, then, that a recent French film should so effectively and movingly demonstrate the risks of allowing what you do to become who you are. What are you left with, after all, if what you do becomes impossible? Read the rest of this entry »