Lakes in Winter

November 2014

During the Brexit debate, boundaries blurred between Europe, Schengen, the Eurozone, and the EU (more than once, I was told that if we voted Remain, we would have to adopt the Euro). The referendum was a vote to leave the EU but it was also a statement about how the British people see themselves in Europe.

It is a matter for Europe as well as the EU, especially so on a global scale where the distinction is often lost. (A swedish relation of mine was once asked by an American “oh, you’re from Sweden? That’s the capital of Europe, right?”).

The EU student exchange Erasmus programme is hoped to produce a generation with a more pan-European identity and a greater appreciation for multi-culturalism. I was lucky enough to spend a year living and studying in Paris as part of the sheme.

While there, I visited someone I knew who was studying in Grenoble. I arrived at night and didn’t see the mountains until morning; they tower over the city on all sides and were quite a shock to see in the morning. From the fort de la Bastille (a great summer party venue) high above, the plateau that the city has been built on is startling flat in such mountainous terrain.

Accents in France are a difficult topic, at least in Paris. There is correct French (parisien) and there is incorrect French (outside the périphérique); an epithet the Parisians apply to almost everything in life (with the possible exception of food: they might grudgingly admit that Lyon’s cuisine is not terrible).

When I went to Grenoble, I was warned that I would not understand the way they spoke. They say s’il vous plé not s’il vous plaît. Not quite the contrast between a Geordie and the Queen. To be clear, I didn’t struggle to understand the warm, welcoming Grenoblois and their near-unaccented French.

But the French do have accents beyond the Swiss and the Belgians. The Marseillais have created a bizarre language I can’t decipher and the Ch’ti in the north-east have pushed the gallic tongue to even more extreme limits.

My friend in Grenoble lived in Geneva after graduating. I went to visit him in November 2014, after having moved back to London.

The city didn’t strike me as overly beautiful but certainly not ugly. The historic centre is well worth seein. The vast lake cuts the city short on one side, exposing it to the cold surface of the lake; leaving an absence where buildings should be.

We visited Montreux, which had a Christmas market the length of its coast, where the vin chaud was needed against the chill. And we crossed the border to Annecy.

Annecy is one of those beautiful towns that want to be called a village despite their size. It sits (again) on a lake and has a number of humped bridges crossing tributaries.

We wandered around the market and ate in a restaurant over-looking one of these streams. The waiter convinced me to try sot-l’y-laisse (idiot leaves them behind – chicken oysters) in a strong, garlic sauce. They came piled up high, almost white meat but with the richness of liver. Delicieux.

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