November 24, 2008

Calling myself a runner again

That’s it. The time may, at last, have come. I think I can now, without too much embarrassment, call myself a runner again. Not somebody who occasionally jogs. Not even somebody who regularly goes for a run. No. A runner.

It took a while to get back to this point. The best part of three years in fact. It all started with a typical I-know-better-than-everybody-else act. I signed up for my first marathon at the last minute, to accompany a friend and out of curiosity. After all, I was already running almost 60 miles a week, so that I figured that would get me through even without specific training. Two months later, I ran my first marathon, did decently well. Started thinking about running London 4 months later and contemplating breaking the mythical sub-3hr.

A month later, I was off running. For the best part of three years. Maybe had I not known better than everybody else, then. Yep, true to myself, I did manage to do all the wrong things all right. Start running again only a week after the marathon? Check. Well, I was feeling strong, no stiffness, you know, so why not? Not only go running but for nothing less than 14 mile-runs at fast pace? Check. My Serpie friends were going and it was just too tempting to tag along, you see. Carry on even though my ankle was clearly showing vehement signs of disagreement? Check. Well, we runners are not sissies, are we? We can handle the pain, run through it. Sure.

Well, this time, it did not work.

For the next few months, I did not run. Initially, I compensated by climbing. I had just met Martin, so concentrating on the climbing was not too much of an effort. Not only I enjoyed it, but if my dedication could impress the guy, I did not mind too much either.

Then I had to stop climbing as well. Looking back to that time, I think the fact that Martin stuck around is a clear sign he is completely devoid of reason. I would be home, talking about running all the time. The sun would shine, and I would sigh that it was such a perfect weather to go running. It would rain, and I would mention how much I loved going running in the rain. I would talk for hours about my bi-weekly physio appointments, analyzing her comments, trying to make them say that there was a chance I would be running again soon. In a nutshell, I was a total nightmare to be with. I mean, really. Like, much, much worst than usual. Yes, that bad.

A year and many useless physio appointments later (I mean, what did she think? Even totally delusional me could tell by that time that this was not just a tiny-itsy-bitsy tendinitis), I had surgery. Followed by 8 weeks lying on my bed without being allowed to move (I think these few weeks must have allowed Waterstone’s to double their annual sales, as reading was the only thing I could do). Followed by weeks of learning to walk properly again and rebuilding my leg muscles, my once-strong runner calf having all but gone.

Little by little, I could re-introduce sports in my life, and therefore a bit of sanity. And before anybody feels the need to comment on that bit, yes, I know that many of you think “Marie-Aline” and “sanity” could not be more of an antinomy precisely because of sports. But tough luck, that’s my blog, so my opinion prevails.

I took up cycling as, this, at least, I was allowed. Being the dwarf I am, I obviously had to go for a girlie bike in not-less-girlie baby blue, but even the embarrassment this created did not manage to deter me from getting on the bike, and I soon realized I enjoyed it as much a running (how was that possible?). Then I started swimming and I soon realized I certainly did NOT enjoy it as much as running.

Still, when I was given the green light to start running again (once or twice a week, i.e. nothing in my book), it was not the total bliss that I was expecting. My ankle was painful. And stiff. That was actually worrying me enough not to bother too much about being much slower than I used to be. And in any case, limiting my runs to 40 min outings was just not all that exciting. So, how shall I put it? I mean, it is rather embarrassing to say, but, err, I… lost a bit of motivation. Some days, it actually seemed like not such a bad thing, not being the running freak I used to be. Some other days though, I wanted to hide in shame: how could I call myself a runner if I could not myself out of the flat only because of the spurious reason that I did not feel like it?

Once, road tripping in the US, somebody asked me if I was a climber. My then-boyfriend helpfully and oh-so-kindly replied on my behalf “well, she likes to think of herself as one”. Well, that was how I now felt: the running equivalent of somebody who likes to think of herself as a climber. I.e., definitely not a runner.

In our first months in Annecy, running did definitely not figure super high in the agenda. Skiing, road cycling, mountain biking, climbing, bouldering, yes. Running, no. Then I realized that, although still stiff, my ankle was behaving quite decently on trail runs. And that trail runs were fun. And that they were such a great way, together with our cycling rides, to discover the area around Annecy. And that it was much easier to convince Martin to go and throw up after a killer hill than to enjoy an easy run on the pavement. And that I was dying to go for the next one as soon as I had come back from a run. So I have started running again. Looking forward to the next one. Checking out new trails. Enjoying the runs in the sun and those in the rain, the sessions in the mud and those in the snow, the short evening sessions and the long weekend runs.

So, I guess I can say it now: I-AM-BACK! And I can call myself a runner again.

November 18, 2008

Isn't it just stunning?

View of the Annecy Lake from Tournette... I can think of worst places to have 2 minutes from home...

Trying to grasp the local dialect

The problem with the French in London is that most of them speak English. Well, most of them also with the worst accent you can think of - I mean, really, do they take some kind of pride in asking for a “shit of paper”? Still, accent set aside, the UK-based French master the “langue de Shakespeare” fairly decently. Which means that, for the last ten years, I could happily and lazily speak a mix of French, English, and anything in between, when talking to my French friends in London, without having to worry that that I was, strictly speaking, not making much sense (do I ever anyway?).

Back on the other side of the Channel, this has now become a problem. It all became apparent for the first time last year. I was France-bound, in a taxi, heading off to a meeting and having the usual where-do-you-come-from-today-what-are-you-up-to conversation with the cabbie (well, the taxi driver rather; they don’t have cabbies in France - that’s because cockney does not translate well in French, I think). All rather mundane stuff, until the driver said: “of course you still have an accent, but really, your French is pretty good”, at which point I realised with horror he thought I was English. I mean, I may be happily criticising the French every time I have the opportunity. But being mistaken for a Brit? In France? That was just beyond embarrassing.

More than a year has passed since that doomed day and the situation has little, if at all, improved.

I got another “so, you are English, right?” from my banker when opening my account, despite the fact she had just been checking my passport. Although, granted, not sure how much that says about the level of my French and how much about my bank’s positive discrimination policy in favour of brainless employees.

Recently, one of Martin’s colleagues told me that I must be happy that, with Geneva airport so close, it was easy to go back home to England for a few days.

I am thinking of employing my dad part-time as my editor, given that I have to ask him to check my French every time I have to write something remotely official. I also now refuse to help Martin do his French exercises since the day he managed to achieve the fantastic score of a 100% failure rate on an exercise he had done entirely with me.

As we were spending time with friends a few weekends ago, I had to admit to Martin, that, no, I could not tell him what one of the guys had said, because I too had problems with his accent, losing a bit more of the little credibility I still had with my husband when it comes to speaking French.

Last but not least, half of our friends here must think of me as the ultimate poseur since I cannot have a conversation without saying at least once per minute “err, not sure how you say that in French”.

So here I am. My French sucks, but there are still only the French to think I can pass for a Brit. Maybe we should have moved to Switzerland. That would at least give me an excuse for sounding a bit funny when speaking French.

November 11, 2008

A Moving Story

That’s it. The decision to move to France has been made. Dream life, here we come! Cliff climbing, trail running, mountain biking, our new life in “ing” is full of promise. Only a couple of months to go, but in the meantime, there are quite a few things to organise, such as quit my job, give notice for the flat, organise the move, pack, organise a farewell party, be the dutiful wife by helping Schatz proof-read his thesis (“I think you may have left two spaces between “sedimentary” and “basin” and other value-added comments). Oh, and, incidentally, find a place to live when we get to Annecy. A quick check of the diary shows there is some kind of urgency: We are a couple of weeks away from the Christmas break, during which estate agents will be as hard to catch as a ray of sun in London. Then we plan to go on a climbing holiday, before Martin starts working. That probably leaves us with the best part of… well, two days, to find a place to crash. The fact we have decided to, at last, climb on the property ladder as well as on our beloved mountains, does not make the job easier.

That’s where the investment banking training comes in handy: chose a task big enough to fill the time of a normal human being for the best part of a month, give it to an soon to be ex-banker, and she will manage to draw a timetable achieving the desired result in less than 48 hours. Of course, sleep and down time don’t feature high, if at all, on the agenda, but here you go…

That’s how I end up in Annecy on that morning of December. The previous week has been rather busy, trying to make Annecy estate agents’ life a misery, with calls going like:

Me: - Hi, we are moving to Annecy in just over 2 months and are looking for a place

The estate agent: - that should not be a problem. If anything, looking for a place to rent 2 months ahead is probably a bit early.

Me: - well, actually, we are looking at buying

The estate agent: - … Right… well… sure, although you do realise that, even if everything runs smoothly, there is at least a 6 week time lag between paying the deposit and exchanging contracts.

Me: - Perfect, we will have a few days to spare then.

The Estate agent: - …

Me: Ok, so I am coming for 2 days in 2 days and want to see as many flats as possible, meeting the following criteria: (list of 14 must-haves and 22 strongly-desirables to be included here).

Of course, I may be a hard-nosed, pain-in-the-neck banker when I chose to (Martin is adamant I can be pretty scary, but really, I don’t think I am that bad), but I am not a completely stupid one at that. For one, I can do the math: with 234 estate agents in Annecy for only 100,000 inhabitants, it is a given that most of them will have the same properties in stock and the choice, like our budget, limited. Still, we have some clearly defined pre-requisite. Namely: a garage. I mean, there is things we definitely want to see ending with our London life. Such as having two bikes sitting in the middle of our living room and two more hanging above the front door. Or pretending it is cool to use the crash pad as spare sitting to forget the fact they is nowhere else to put it than the floor of the living room. Or risking death every time we open our only wardrobe because the ice axes are precariously hanging next to our jackets. Or having our friend convinced we are having daily über-kinky sex because they noticed the climbing ropes hanging next to the bed (I mean, there is nothing wrong with our sex life, but 1. it does not necessarily involve rope work, 2. we don’t mind keeping our routine to ourselves). In a nutshell, if we really had to chose, we’d rather do for a garage without a flat than a flat without a garage.

So that’s how I end up in Annecy on a Friday morning, with 17 flats to visit in less than two days. I am armed with my excel spreadsheet (17 flats, 12 categories, I am the queen of matrix), my parents (well, they moved, children in tow, so many times I stopped counting, so surely they should know one thing or three about flat hunting), and my camera (Martin being Imperial College-bound, checking word spacing in his thesis, I have to report on the hunt).

It rapidly looks like it won’t be hard to get to a shortlist of properties, given how appalling some of them are, or how misleading the online description turns out to be. In fact, by end of Day 1, I am seriously starting to wonder if a shortlist can still qualify as a list if there is nothing on it. Any references to greenery seem to be synonymous to big trees ensuring a total absence of light at any time of the day. Description and photos of a wonderful loft-style flat with skylight windows and stripped wooden floors strangely did not mention that the said windows, even closed, can do little against the noise of the trucks zooming past, while I am not super thrilled by the idea of a common entrance with what seems to be like a hotel where rooms can be hired by the hour… The next one may have indeed view on the lake (our dream!) but I have a bad feeling about the smell which seems to have penetrated the walls, not to mention the Adams family leaving below. Another flat tick most of the boxes, until we see the bedroom door smashed and are being told by the agent that the owners are getting divorced and “Monsieur” got a little angry against his once-beloved wife. Somehow, I am suddenly not feeling super good about moving in here with my newly-wed husband.

Then it looks that the last flat on our list could be the right one. For a start, not only has it a garage, but a big one at that, so it seems we should be able to store our mess sports equipment AND build a bouldering wall. No big trees hiding the light making you feel like you are living underground, but instead the view on the mountains and a cool sunset as the icing (or the cherry, since we are in France) on the cake. OK, no-so-cool white tiles which seem to be standard fare in France and manage to make the most stunning flat look like a hospital theatre, but that is nothing than cannot be overcome. In a nutshell, by the time I head back to London and report to Martin, I am pretty enthusiastic. An hour of questioning and 200MB of photos reviewed later, and our decision is taken: let’s make an offer on the flat. The owner seem to be a wee bit surprised we are ready to buy without Martin having seen the property, but is clearly happy to put it on account of modern relationships. Another 5 days and we have agreed on a price and paid the deposit. Another 6 weeks to the day, and we are the proud owners of our first flat and moving in. The fact that the said flat will stay totally empty for the next 2 months is another story…

November 04, 2008

Ready for exile?

So, this was it. The decision had been made. After twelve years of living in London – and swearing I would never leave, let alone to go back to France - this is precisely what I was about to do. Moving back. To France. And not only to France – I mean, after all, Paris would still feel like a smaller and somehow more insular version of London. No, I was taking the plunge, and sending myself, Martin, my running shoes and my climbing gear to Annecy, a small, provincial town nested in the French Alps. Was this really happening to me, the city girl who spent her entire adult life in London? Let get something straight here: I am not the food-obsessed, tick-accent, Paris-on-Thames, type of Frenchie. Until a few years ago, I would even swear to whoever would listen that I so disliked the French and their habit of continuously complaining and hating everything – thereby being very French myself you will tell me, and I will agree. But anyway, things changed, and after all these years, here I was ready to move on, and go… home? Well, it did not feel quite that way. In fact, I was… scared.

Sure, I wanted to leave London. Sure, I may have been until recently a city girl. Sure, I loved shoes, brunches in Notting Hill, feeling like a jet setter courtesy of EasyJet, ending up not doing anything at night because there is just too much to chose from. Still, the runner-cum-climber-cum-cyclist in me has always won against the city-girl and banker, Mrs Jekyll overpowering of Mrs Hyde. And, let’s face it, if your idea of a great weekend is to wake up early, jump on your bike, go for a 6-hour ride, come back, take a shower and go for a two hour session at the climbing wall before your evening run, London is just NOT the ideal place to be. Annecy, on the other hand, had everything it takes, at least on paper. Beautiful mountains, clean air. Check. A flat three times the size of our London pad for half the price, AND a garage big enough for our 6 bikes, mountaineering gear, skis, a small climbing wall, boxes full of summer flip flops and winter boots: re-check. Trails on your doorstep for those off-road runs, so much more fun than running on pavements? Still check. Dive in the Annecy Lake’s pristine water on a hot summer day that beats a London pool full of chlorine and screaming kids any day? Check again. Little winding roads especially designed for weekend cycling rides, or, even better, short lunchtime or weekday after-work sessions (how decadent)? Check, always check.

Not that the “after work” bit was of any relevance to me, mind you. And that’s where the scary bit started. Because I may have been happily giving up the London rat-race and the City job, I was still not ready to become a French version of your average desperate housewife. I only gave up to married life because, let’s face it, when the perfect man comes along and is reckless enough to think he can survive being married to me, it would have been crazy to turn him down. But between being a wife and being ready to add the prefix “house-” in front of it, was a big, very big, step I was not sure I was ready - or wanted to - take. Although I had no second thoughts about leaving Europe’s largest city to become a provinciale, the prospect of also being a chômeur, a jobless, and buying my beloved running shoes not with my own, hard won money but with that of my husband, was a different ballgame altogether!

And then, there was, of course, the issue of the French. Because, everybody will no doubt agree with me, they truly are a piece of work. And I should know, shouldn’t I? In London, it used to be at best funny – of the bittersweet kind – to admit it. But what was I supposed to do now? I could hardly complain to the French themselves, or they would probably try to send me back to where I, no doubt, in their mind now belonged, the visceral enemy: England. Still I figured that, if I learned to shut up even when really annoyed (not easy if you know me, I must admit), I should just about be able to deal with it and not being sent back from where I came from.

So that was it. The decision was taken. Martin’s thesis and my bonus in the bag, we would make our farewell to London, and head off to Annecy. Oh, via Thailand, as one does.