Open the shutters wide


Claude’s house in Saint Michel de Fronsac.

We’re all probably a bit sick of Brexit by now. Speaking for myself, fretting* about the economic implications has lost its lustre. What hasn’t, is the continuing realisation of just how interconnected the world is, and how utterly foolish and misguided any attempts to drive people into camps that can be labelled and then fenced off neatly.

There’s nothing neat about societies and who “belongs” where. The incredible richness of the world we live in strikes me every day on this trip, and is a continuous source of fun, wonder and inspiration.

For an example (to borrow a phrase from David, the Spanish estate agent we met, whose surname is Janssen, courtesy of a Belgian grandfather, and who has taught himself to read, write and speak Russian):

Yesterday was the first day of the 4-week cooking course I’ll be doing at the Dublin Cookery School this July. With Ireland not famous for its cuisine, Dublin not generally regarded as one of the great European cities (I disagree, just so you know) and the Irish summer not known for its sunny days, you’d think that the class would consist of mostly Irish students. You’d be right, as it happens, but the exceptions are wonderful. There is Roberta, the gorgeous Brazilian who packed in her tutu after 24 years of being a ballerina and ballet teacher in Brazil and came to Ireland as an au pair. Now she’s hunting down her food dream with a sharp carving knife. There is also Suzanne, an Irish vet who lived in the States for 9 years and in Dubai for a year – where she tended the racehorses of that country’s richest and most powerful sheikh. Now she’s home. Then there is the Turkish girl (whose name won’t stick in my head) who lived in Düsseldorf in Germany before coming to Dublin. There is a young Asian man who never said a word yesterday and about whose story I’m hugely curious. Fortunately we get to cook with different partners every day, so I know it’s only a matter of time before I meet him. So right there, in a training kitchen in a small suburb of Dublin, you have a mini UN.

For another example (says David): our Airbnb host in Saint Michel de Fronsac, a tiny village in Bordeaux, was a lovely French gentleman called Claude. His wife is Juliet, a British woman (who was so upset about Brexit that she could barely talk). Around a generous breakfast in his kitchen-straight-from-a-Country-Life-article, Claude confessed that he was managing the comings and goings of guests in the two guestrooms and one cottage to prevent him from simply closing the shutters and living in his own world, now that he has retired. That resonated deeply with me; as an introvert I understand that impulse. Yet here was a man who consciously and actively opened himself up to the world by inviting strangers from the four corners into his home.

And another example: in Barcelona our Airbnb hosts were a woman who used to be a contortionist with Cirque du Soleil, and her boyfriend, a man composed of muscles. To pay the bills, Dasha teaches stretch classes and Ljubomir English classes. Together they work out twice a day and are now perfecting a routine they hope will get them onto the cruise ships for a season or two. Dasha left Russia when she was 7 and joined the circus at the age of 15. Ljubomir comes from Macedonia. Between them they speak about 7 languages. I don’t think I’ve ever met people less concerned with putting down roots than these two.

For a last example: the couple who live next door to the house where we stayed in Royan are Armand and Lucia. After 26 years in the USA, Armand moved his extremely American wife and their four daughters to his native France just more than two years ago. This less-than-cosmopolitan corner of France appears to find Lucia a bit overwhelming and it saddened us to hear that the family feels quite isolated. Circumstances brought us into their orbit a few times and, the evening before we left, Armand and Lucia brought us freshly baked cookies for the road. Such a heartfelt gesture from people who could do with a little more kindness themselves was a precious gift to receive.

The notion of countries belonging exclusively to a specific group of people is ludicrous. Even more so the notion that we should put up fences to keep some in and others out. If the Brexits and Trumps of the world win out, every one of us would be personally the poorer for it.

*Trivia time: “fret” comes from the Old English word freton, which means to devour like an animal. When you fret over something, it consumes your thoughts.


3 thoughts on “Open the shutters wide

  1. Reading your blog 2 things come to mind: On Brexit – there were a lot ‘Chicken Lickens’ on both sides and the sky hasn’t fallen yet. On the world becoming increasingly integrated, it reminds me of a quote “Every head is a world…”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The world can be an eclectic mix – unless one’s head remains buried in a sandy, confined comfort zone!
    Great post Charmaine – what an awesome experience you are embracing!
    Best wishes for the course! 😁🙌🎉🎆

    Liked by 1 person

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