Monday, 25 August 2014

Bonjour Full Circle!

I speak French, did I ever mention that?  The Bienvenue in the blog header might have been a hint.  I think I speak French pretty well although there is puh-lenty of room for improvement.  I grew up in Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada, with a father who's first language was French.  But here's the thing, he never spoke to me in French and I was educated entirely in English.  A most unfortunate decision.

Culturally, my youth was representative of Canada's two solitudes.  I learned basic French at school, however, all of my social experience was again entirely in English.  At the time, it was unclear to me what an incredible gift bilingualism is, and it was only when I went to a bilingual College (in Quebec, we attend College or CEGEP for 2-3 years prior to entry into University) that I began regretting the lack of attention to my second language.

The subsequent years were spent studying and working in an English-language University, and with the exception of a handful of friends and acquaintances, interacting entirely in English.  The language wars raged in Quebec during those years, with Bill 101 and Bill 22 the rights of the English language diminished, and society fractured through separation referendums.  While I fully believed, and continue to believe to this day, in the distinct character of the province and the imperative of protecting the French language in a sea of English, I could never understand separation as a means of achieving those goals.   Ultimately, fatigued by the language wars, and its economic and social cost, we decamped to  Alberta.  During our 8 years in Calgary, my French language skills were rarely exercised.

But here is where things get interesting.  When we moved to Geneva in 2005,  J was 2.  Geneva is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and C2 and I were delighted to settle into this culturally and linguistically-rich part of Europe.  We resisted connecting with other Canadian or American groups deciding instead to integrate as much as possible with our neighbours and fellow villagers.  We sent J to the local French school where for the first year, all he said was "oui" (yes) and "regard-moi" (look at me), and we seized the opportunity to become as bilingual as possible.

My language skills with the help of tutoring improved dramatically and rapidly.  Within a couple of years both J and I were functionally bilingual.  By the time we left Geneva for Melbourne in 2010, I was determined that neither of us would lose our skills.   There was one primary school in Melbourne that offered an innovative bilingual French program for native speakers.  I stalked stayed in regular contact with the principal in the weeks before our move, and we ultimately received acceptance for J.  The next 3 years were amazing.  J's language acquisition and cultural appreciation for the language never flagged despite only speaking English outside of school.  Our entire social network was Franco-Australian so we were never very far away from anything French.

We resisted moving to Perth, even though it was clear that we should have been here from the beginning, in large part because of our commitment to J's language acquisition.  He worked hard to earn those skills and they remain a high family priority.  However, we did come to Perth four months ago.  Where am I writing this epistle to bilingualism?  At the Alliance Fran├žaise de Perth, the language and cultural epicentre of all things French in most major cities around the world.

In English-speaking Perth, J goes to after-school French school once a week, just like my Hebrew-, Greek-, and Italian-speaking friends did when I was a child.  I come once a week to a conversation class, and we all speak exclusively French at home on Mondays.  It's not perfect but I hope it will suffice.  I remind J every Monday as we walk into the Alliance, that one day he will thank me for insisting he speak French.  Maybe then we will move back to Quebec.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Exercise for Everybody!

It's no secret that exercise is a big part of our lives.  I  principally do it to indulge my well-documented Tim Tam addiction, but the endorphin high doesn't hurt either.  We've managed to include J in many of our activities and he does love the outdoors, running on the beach, climbing dunes and hills, hiking, and bushwalking.

Last weekend, we went on a bushwalk with our neighbours in the Yanshep National Park, about 50km north of Perth.  The Australian flora is always a treat, we were surrounded by Gum trees off all sorts, Tea trees, and gorgeous blooming Wattle.

 It was a glorious Winter day to bushwalk 12.5k though my feet didn't feel so glorious 4.5 hours later!

We really didn't expect this Croc to leap out of the bush at poor J.  He managed to fight it off thankfully.

 Gum trees galore!

 Deep in conversation, probably about something Minecraft-related.

Then we saw this fella, we were terribly impressed to see him, but I don't think the feeling was mutual.

Meanwhile, it is important that my mum continue to exercise in order to maintain good health whilst visiting us down under.  She's been working very hard!

Monday, 11 August 2014

FROZEN in Perth

Winter in Western Australia, how do I explain it?  Let me step back a minute.

 I grew up in Montreal and my clearest recollections of Winter were salt-stained boots, freezing toes, snow plows, snow drifts taller than me, digging my car out, and slipping on the glacier of uneven ice that thawed and refroze above the Guy-Concordia metro station. 


No exaggeration!
After leaving Montreal, we spent nearly 8 years in that Winter capital Calgary.  My blocked-out clearest recollections are taking Murphy out for a final evening walk and near flash-freezing, skiing at minimum temperatures of -20c, and planes being delayed due to long queues for de-icing.  

Ah the joys of air travel during Canadian Winters

OK, Winter does have some charms (Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta)

Moving on, we had 5 years of Winter in Geneva, a serious improvement over Canadian Winters.  Skiing at normal temperatures, few blizzards, but we still had that northern blast known as "La Bise" to contend with which could whip the Lake into a frenzy and render cars and benches into instant ice sculptures.

The effects of La Bise in Geneva

Melbourne for 3 years was again an improvement, but I still wore boots and a winter jacket; we still used our fireplace....a lot.  It just never snowed and I never wore gloves.

Now we have arrived in Perth where central heating is rare, where everyone uses an exterior clothes line, not a dryer, yet the Winter rain comes down in sheets, and the wind whips stinging water into your eyes, and an umbrella will not prevent a drenching.   Clothes stay wet  and soggy on the line waiting for a dry day between storms.  We sleep under our Canadian-weight duvet (called a doona here), and wear Uggs as slippers, as they're supposed to be worn.

All of this Winter fun is feted in the city for two weeks in July known as Perth's Winter Wonderland.
It is celebrated with outdoor ice-skating venues (where the ice is half-melted), an artificial snow ramp for tobogganing, artificial snow balls being launched into the air to the squeals of children who have never known the joys of -30.
J at Perth's Winter Wonderland last month

In fact, Winter is sufficiently regarded in these parts that J's class recently presented a performance of "Frozen".  J was the King, I think he looks very kingly...even if he did send Elsa to her room for 10 years.

All of this lasts....about five weeks...then Winter is over, O...V...E...R, as in good-bye rain, hello warm sun on my face, good-bye heavy duvet, hello crazy 11-year olds swimming in the ocean waves (it is still technically Winter), and welcome back shorts and t-shirts.

Cottesloe Beach last Saturday

J and his mate T braving the Winter waves

That's how I explain Winter in Perth.