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Once we are no longer accountable uniquely to ourselves, living as expats forces us to examine our choice not only to live abroad, but also raise a family outside our culture of origin. Even long after a host country becomes "home", you routinely debate seemingly small things (especially if you share different cultural foundations with your partner), like the necessity for Marmite, the relevance of punctuality, or which day marks the beginning of the week.

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Finally summer is here and the smell of the grillade wafting through our little village over the weekend has triggered an annual event that I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing — the moment our taste buds cry out for chilled crisp whites and a plethora of pinks. The big ballsy reds that we so readily quaff at any other time of the year now make as much sense as hot soup in the Seychelles!

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In the midst of the Goudargues countryside, on the winding road to Verfeuil, aspiring horse riders can stumble into a scene right out of a Western at Vano Stables, owned by a friendly Belgian couple, Christine and Philippe Van Hauw (pronounced "Vano"). While Christine and her granddaughter Adélie are competition-level reining riders and compete all over Europe with their finely bred horses, at home the stables and modern equestrian centre play host to the Gard’s very own El Charro, or traditional Mexican cowboy or horseman, Carlos Barrera.

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You may not be too familiar with Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, but this small town — 20 km from Nîmes and with a population of 13,500 — is celebrating this summer, with activities including the 20th anniversary of the inclusion of its Abbatiale, or abbey church, as part of the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James), the completion of the Abbatiale’s renovation, new tourism initiatives and a series of festivals and concerts.

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While history has not retained many names of the hundreds of Protestant women persecuted in France after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Marie Durand is one exception. She was born on 15 July, 1711 in the little town of Le Bouschet-de-Pranles in the Ardèche region, near Viviers. Her family were Protestants, but they had been forced to convert to Catholicism, but after the death of Louis XIV, young Protestants, including Marie and her brother Pierre (1700-1732), refused to accept forced conversions.

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Robin Hicks, who lived near Pézenas for 12 years, looks back on his time in France and explains how he felt as he slowly settled into the country, although he confesses a little more time on verbs and tenses would have made it easier.
For all that, he did manage to create the Cassan Cracker Fair, edit a local monthly paper named Blablablah and report for a number of papers, plus working with Béziers airport to promote the area to the British press. He returned to the UK in 2002 after 12 years in France, and here he gives us his thoughts on belonging, his struggles with the French language, secrets of the "international press" and the mysteries of wine tasting sessions.

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I was born in Paris, grew up in Toulouse, spent months in America, went to college in Normandy, gave birth to my son in the Corsican mountains and have been living in Nîmes for 10 years now. I’ve moved 12 times since the age of 18, and quickly felt at home in every single place I’ve lived in, but for many years have wondered “Do I belong here?”

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One day when I was living in London as a struggling musician, I came across an ad looking for a French wine specialist. While far from being a “specialist”, I informed the gentleman during the interview that I spoke fluent French and consumed large quantities of wine. This, along with the in-house Wine & Spirit Education Trust training programme offered by the company, was apparently enough for me to find myself working in the Clapham branch of Oddbins wine merchants.

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The Carrières de Lumières, or Quarries of Light, is a magical space in a vast cave- like quarry at the base of the hilltop village of Les-Baux-de-Provence. In the cool darkness, 100 video projectors and 27 speakers choreograph 2,000 images over an area of 23,000 sq m, including the walls, ceiling and floor. The sound-and-light show changes annually, and is one of Provence’s most popular sites, attracting roughly 2.5 million visitors since opening in 2012.

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In the early 1960s, my first professional gig was with Liverpool group The Crescents at Derby Town Hall, playing the hits of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Yardbirds and Spencer Davis. Now 50 years later I still play much the same repertoire in the Gard- Lozère, with my Anglo-French group Rhythm ‘n’ Booze — me on vocals and guitar, Jack Bee (ex-Glory Hogs) on drums and Jérôme Le Grand (ex-Emma Royd’s Painmakers) on bass guitar.

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There is a special place in my heart reserved for the trailing spouse, regardless of the duration of the stay, whether they work inside or outside the house, their nationality, gender, or if they have children or not.

To uproot your life and follow your partner, whose education, career or even family brings you to a foreign land for a known or unknown duration of time, takes a lot of guts, patience and creativity.

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On Saturday 19 May, the leafy Château du Fraissinet on the edge of the Cévennes will be garlanded with bunting and balloons in honour of Harry and Meghan’s big day. We are holding a charity Garden Party to celebrate the Royal Wedding, with all proceeds going to the Nepal Remote Villages Trust. It was set up by Chris and I on our return from a wonderful trek in the Annapurna region in 2014.

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With oils and a palette knife, Els Knockaert paints a world full of light and colour. Born in Belgium in 1964 and a graduate of the country’s top art schools, Els considers herself a woman of the world, having travelled extensively in Asia, Africa and Colombia. From 1996 to 2002, Els and her husband lived on a farm in the Colombian jungle and ran a guest house, while she exhibited her work and taught painting in Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. With the civil war drawing closer, they left Colombia in 2003 and settled in Olargues, as the landscape reminded them of Colombia.

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LeSun N66 WINTER 2018 coverDownload Languedoc & Provence Sun N°66 (Winter 2018)

 

I recently spent a few days on the Riviera. What a surprise it was to find so many people speaking English (and native speakers), even among the wait staff! In my short stay, I met one waitress from Ireland and another from Marlow in Berkshire. It was like being back in the UK for a while... Here in Nîmes, it’s still quite rare to hear people speaking English – and I love it when it happens! I always start a conversation, and it’s a special event for me. On the Riviera, it’s an everyday experience...

 

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LeSun N68 SUMMER 2018 coverDownload Languedoc & Provence Sun N°68 (Summer 2018)

 


This issue is all about belonging, in its many different forms, and how that can change us. I was having a coffee at the Grande Bourse in Nîmes opposite the Arènes, next to a young couple and their baby, and I suddenly realised that my role as mother to my own son had changed. In July he’ll actually be playing in the Nîmes Arènes, opening for world-famous singer Jamiroquai — he’ll be there, all alone like a gladiator in the middle of thousands of people. Thus my role of mother has now metamorphosed into something very different from when he was little. It’s a strange feeling for a mother to have a child "belonging" to the public — I’m very happy and proud of course, but I now need to learn this new role as a "distance carer".

  

Cover photo: “La Cabane des Sauveteurs, Gruissan Plage” (oil on canvas) – 40x30cm - Jennifer Dennis

 

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The presence of serial Cannes prizewinner Ken Loach in Nîmes from March 2 to 11 is the highlight of this year’s 21st British Screen Festival.

 

Clear your calendar for those key dates in March now! In honour of Ken Loach’s presence at the festival, there will be a retrospective of his film and TV work, stretching back to the 1960s when works such as Cathy Come Home provoked outrage in Britain at the plight of the homeless. There will also be major films of social and historic commentary such as Kes, The Wind that Shook the Barley, Looking for Eric, and 2016 Cannes Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake.

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Libby has created limited edition reproductions of some of the paintings from her last exhibition Transitions. Only 20 prints from each painting are made and each one hand signed by the artist. They will be available from 8th January but do join Libby along with Angela Saunders at Inspiré Azille for a glass of bubbly on Saturday 13th January for the launch.

A new range of beautiful cushions and her annual calendar will also be available and a percentage of the proceeds go to the Canal du Midi’s replantation project. Come and see the continuing adventure at Galerie Inspiré in Azille (Aude).

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