Mad May

In my hometown of Adelaide, there’s one month of the year that I prefer a little more than the eleven others. On top of temperatures being ideal, it’s also my birthday month which makes March my favourite time of the year!

The month of March is chock-a-block full of world-class festivals including WOMAD; a world music festival, The Adelaide Festival; a mix of theatre and dance pieces, visual arts and outstanding music performances, Writers Week; a chance to listen to acclaimed writers talk about their work and The Fringe Festival; a whacky and vibrant few weeks showcasing national and international artists performing burlesque, comedy, magic, circus, dance and music acts.

Adelaide, often considered by our neighbours from Sydney & Melbourne to be a sleepy town, truly comes alive at this time of year; a period that is affectionately known as Mad March.

It’s definitely one of the things I miss the most about home, but thankfully in Reunion we have our very own equivalent in May!

Beginning with Komidi; a drama festival that takes place in the South of the island, Reunion in May is the place to be. I highly recommend the Komidi festival, it has something for everyone and entry only costs 1 euro!

Then comes Leu Tempo Festival, in St Leu, as the name would suggest. The town is a buzz thanks to numerous street art, dance, circus and comedy shows. There’s lots of free stuff on offer allowing for everyone to make the most of the festive atmosphere.

This is shortly followed by the Festival du Film d’Adventure; an adventure film festival that begins with a free opening night on the beach in St Gilles where three films are projected onto a big screen. This evening is then followed by three others, both in the South and in the North. Two heartfelt and inspiring amateur films are shown each night taking us on the wildest of journeys.

Needless to say I’ve renamed this time of the year Mad May. And to top it off, I wouldn’t rather be in any other country than France in May given all the public holidays, four in total!

Vocabulary

on top of – de plus
chock-a-block – plein à craquer
word-class – de classe internationale
outstanding – exceptionnel
acclaimed – réputé

whacky – farfelu
to showcase – mettre en valeur
neighbours – voisins
sleepy town – ville endormie
to come alive – prendre vie

own – propre
to be a buzz – être vibrant
to make the most of – profiter
atmosphere – ambiance
screen – écran

heartfelt – qui vient du fond du cœur
wildest – le plus fou
needless to say – cela va sans dire
to top it off – couronner
public holiday – jour férié

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Tropica’dingue

In November 2015 I had the pleasure of partaking in Reunion’s 2nd edition of a very different race the – Tropica’dingue. Those whose who are familiar with this event, know that it roughly translates to lots of crazy people running around looking extremely ridiculous under a hot tropical sun.

It is however, a little more structured than that.

The race is 12kms long, full of obstacles, it’s done in teams and most importantly – everybody has to dress up! Start times are staggered in the aim of reducing human traffic jams at each obstacle. This was even more important for the second edition given that the number of participants had gone up from 900 in 2014 to 3,500 in 2015.

Before getting underway all participants are invited to take part in the official ‘warm-up’. This is a great opportunity to check out everyone’s costume. For me, this is by far the highlight of the day. The effort people go to is truly impressive. This year my team, team ‘Zourite’, decided to dress up as octopi. We were dressed in blue and had a dressmaker design and make a wig in the form of an octopus head equipped with eyes, tentacles and all. We achieved our goal of looking as silly as we could but were still outdone by many others!

The minions were quite a popular theme as were pirates, surfers (with actual surfboards), fireman, cowboys, men in actual nappies, penguin onesies, superheroes and much, much more.

My personal favourite were the Flying Scotsman. No idea if that was their team name but as they passed us during the race, the group of young lads were very proud to show us that they’d respected the tradition of wearing no underwear underneath the kilts!

The aim of the day is to a) have fun, b) dress up and look silly c) have some more fun! The beauty of the Tropica’dingue is that there are no prizes for finishing first. Everyone is just there to muck around. It’s also perfect for those who don’t typically do a lot of sport as you can walk the whole 12kms if you like. And if you really don’t want to complete an obstacle, you can just walk around it and proceed to the next one.

However, the obstacles are what make the race. Some are physically hard and require a good dose of teamwork, others are easy, some are just fun; dancing to loud music in a tent in the middle of nowhere, some are dirty; jumping into an enormous mud bath, but all are downright entertaining.

Anyway, I won’t give too much more away, you’ll just have to sign up for the 3rd edition to find out for yourselves!

Vocabulary

to partake – assister, participer
roughly – à peu près
to dress up – se déguiser
to stagger – étaler
to get underway – se lancer

costume – déguisement
by far – de loin
highlight – temps fort, moment le plus marquant
dressmaker – couturière
wig – perruque

as silly as – aussi débile que
outdone – faire mieux que
nappy – couche
onesie – combinaison intégral
lad – gars

underneath – sous
to muck around – faire l’imbécile
dirty – sale
downright – carrément, franchement
sign-up – s’inscrire

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It’s Time for a Drink

It’s time for a drink! In Australia, you can basically say this sentence any time of the day, either to celebrate a special occasion or just because, and no one will be shocked.

In Australia, like most other English speaking countries, we have a drink when we feel like it: A beer at the pub at 5 to mark the end of a hard day’s work with fellow colleagues, cocktails at 6 with other friends followed by a glass of wine and nibbles and then a glass or two with dinner. And then, of course, ‘one for the road’! (one of the reasons why taxis are a lot more popular than in Reunion!). And the next day, it’s off to a brunch, which is obviously more exciting with champagne than tea!

That’s my life in Australia. And I’m not the only one who lives like that. My life in France however, is somewhat different. When I invited three friends for a champagne breakfast on the beach one year for my birthday, their first reaction was to ask “Really? Champagne? At 8am?” (after two glasses each, they were thrilled with the initial idea). 

On the weekends, when I reach for the bottle of wine at 3pm, my partner even after five years together is still quite shocked, but follows up with one of my very own expressions, “Well I guess it’s five o’clock somewhere in the world”. 

But the worst for me, is when I’m invited to a friend’s for dinner or when I’m staying with my in-laws and I’m obliged to respect the very French tradition of waiting for ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE to be together to start drinking. This is AFTER the painstaking process of waiting for everyone to choose what he or she wants drink, and then waiting for the host (who is alone in the drinks making task, as it’s out of the question that I help because I’m a guest) to prepare all of the drinks. During this time, I’m obliged to make small talk with everybody else when all I can think about is my damn drink that is sitting right in front if me but that I’m not ‘allowed’ to touch. So when everyone finally has their drinks (by this time, my glass of white is wine is now at room temperature) we have to look everyone in the eyes, clink glasses, make a toast and then I can FINALLY drink. 

And given that I’m at this point dying of thirst, my warm glass of wine goes down in about two minutes. Next dilemma, how to get a second glass… Stay tuned!

Vocabulary

nibbles – quelque chose à gringotter
one for the road – un dernier verre pour la route
brunch – un mélange entre breakfast et lunch
however – cependant
somewhat – assez

thrilled – ravi
in-laws – les beaux-parents
painstaking – laborieux
task – tache
make small talk – parler de la pluie et du beau temps

damn – fichu
room temperature – température ambiante
clink glasses – trinquer
finally – enfin
dying of thirst – mourir de soif 

stay tuned – restez à l’écoute

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A Free DOM

When I first moved to Reunion around 7 years ago, I was quickly introduced to lots of things. Pristine lagoons, Mafate, Rougail Saucisse, traffic jams and another local phenomenon, the radio station Free Dom. Still grappling with my comprehension of the French language at the time, Free Dom was somewhat of a mystery to me.

So when I first tuned in to Freedom and I didn’t understand a whole lot of what was being said, I opted to spend my time at the lagoons, in Mafate, eating Rougail Saucisse and being stuck in traffic jams. Unbeknown to me, the latter was to play an important role in my change of attitude!

I quickly realised that Free Dom was much more than a radio station. It’s so important to the Reunionese population that some callers even state that it’s a lifeline to them.

So what makes this station so popular with the locals? As a foreigner, I guess the most captivating thing about Free Dom is that people can ring for whatever reason they want. And I mean, WHATEVER. There’s literally a segment for everyone from free expression, to traffic information, lost property, late night dating, obituaries, politics, or quite simply – gossip. The New York Times even wrote an article on Free Dom, so enthralled they were when in Reunion for the MH370 discovery.

It’s perfectly OK to ring Free Dom if the tree you recently planted isn’t growing as you think it should, to express your sadness over the death of your favourite singer, if your parrot has flown off and you can’t find him, to tell the other listeners that is raining where you live, and then describe that rain in detail – anything is possible!

A couple of my Free Dom ‘best-of’ moments as a listener include:

– When a woman rang to describe a car accident that she was witnessing and after a few minutes the radio presenter asked if she’d called an ambulance or the police and she quite indignantly said, “no, not yet”.

– A guy who called up one Saturday night looking to start a very serious relationship, not just a fling but something that was to last. Asked when he was available to meet the lucky lady he responded “tonight”.

– When a lady rang in to say that she’d just got off the bus leaving all her shopping behind. A guy listening at home heard her plea and gallantly ran out to stop the very same bus, which happened to be driving past his home.

Like it or not, Free Dom can’t be criticised for the way it pulls the community together. Where else in the world would you think to call the local radio station to find your lost credit card? Even the local authorities are known to suggest calling Free Dom to help solve petty crimes. The station is a testament to the solidarity of the Reunionese people.

For many, free expression does equate to a general sense of freedom. And radio Free Dom has done just that, liberate the local community to help create a very ‘free’ DOM.

Vocabulary

pristine – cristallin
to grapple – se battre, lutter
unbeknown – sans que quelqu’un le sache
latter – le dernier
lifeline – lien vital

whatever – n’importe quel
late night dating – chaleur tropicale
obituaries – avis de décès
gossip – la di la fé
enthralled – captivé

parrot – perroquet
to fly off – s’envoler
fling – brève liaison
to last – durer
which happened to be driving past – qui passait justement

plea – appel
to witness – être temoin
petty crimes – petits delits

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All Dubbed Out

Dubbing. A concept which is completely beyond my realm of comprehension. So much so, that before living in France I didn’t really know much about it.  I had heard that some European countries did this odd thing where, instead of just putting subtitles on the screen, people were employed to speak, in their own language, in place of the original actors. I found this truly mesmerising having grown up in a country where dubbing doesn’t exist. In Australia, if you want to see a film that happens to be Spanish, well it stays in Spanish and you have a constant stream of nifty subtitles to ensure you understand what’s going on.

So when I arrived in France you could imagine my surprise to find out that George Clooney spoke fluent French! (Whereas I though he was only capable of asking ‘What else?’) But everyone else did as well. Every single actor seemed to speak fluent French. Except there was just one glitch, I didn’t recognise their voices. Two glitches actually, their mouths weren’t moving at the same time as the French voice which just seemed all a little unconvincing.

Let’s have a look at just a few of the advantages of leaving film and TV in its original language.

a) Studies have shown that foreign language acquisition is made easier as a result of watching films and TV in their original language, especially when it comes to kids.

b) Studies have also proved that one’s reading and writing skills increase dramatically as a result of subtitles. This makes perfect sense. If even half the time that kids spend in front of the TV is used reading in their own language, well then of course they are going to master it earlier.

c) Accents! Films where several languages and accents are used are completely lost in dubbed films were everyone miraculously speaks the same language.

Now let’s have a look at some of the excuses I often hear when I tackle the subject of subtitles with friends and acquaintances. 

a) It’s too hard (reading & watching).

It’s really not. Speak to most Australians or English people who’ve had no choice but to read subtitles whilst watching foreign films and they’ll tell you that they don’t even realise they’re doing both at the same time. It’s just a matter of habit.

b) If all English speaking films and TV were left in English then our children wouldn’t be able to speak French properly.

False. See b) above.

c) If dubbing didn’t exist, the French language would die out.

Admittedly, us Anglophones are more advantaged by the amount of English speaking material available which notably comes from America. But whilst Hollywood is a difficult industry to rival, perhaps if English films were left in English then more French TV series would pop-up and more funding would be pumped into the French Film Industry.

d) But the guy that dubs Colin Firth has a really great voice.

He may well do. But it’s not Colin’s! Voices are unique and undisputedly shape the way others perceive us. Could you imagine yourself being dubbed into another language? Would you feel as though the audience was getting a true glimpse of who you were?

Our voice and intonation, which ultimately determine the way in which we express ourselves, are intrinsically linked to our own culture. I just couldn’t imagine seeing La Vita Belladubbed into English. This would be a gross injustice to Roberto Benigni and the film itself. As would watching Marion Cotillard play Edith Piaf be, in La Vie en Rose. The list, my friends, goes on…

Anyway, that’s enough of a rant for one day. Times are definitely changing in France with more and more people, especially parents, seeing the benefits of watching films in their original version, regardless of the language.

Reunion Island is definitely in a transitional stage with cinemas gradually starting to put on more “VO” films. Our English Evenings at Ciné Cambaie have proved a huge success and it’s great to see the Reunion population embracing the change!

Vocabulary

beyond my realm of comprehension – ça me dépasse complètement
odd – bizarre
subtitles – sous-titres
employed – embauché
stream – flot

nifty – ingénieux
fluent – couramment
whereas – tandis que
glitch – bug, problème
it comes to – il s’agit de

to tackle – aborder
acquaintances – connaissances
pop-up – apparaître
funding – financement
rant – coup de gueule 

regardless – peu import

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Christmas in Australia

Whilst a lot of people from mainland France find spending Christmas in Reunion to be a little strange, coming from Australia I find it completely normal to celebrate Christmas and New Year under the burning sun. There are however a few differences between the way the French and the Aussies go about Christmas festivities.

Starting with the 24th of December which in Australia is a little less formal than it is in France. Most people try and finish work early but the evening is not necessarily spent with the family. Quite often we catch up with friends and go out for a drink or two. Carols By Candlelight, which is an outside concert where people sit on blankets, light candles and join together to sing Christmas Carols, is a major event of the silly season. The one in Melbourne is rather spectacular and generally televised live across Australia on the 24th December. Then before going to bed, kids usually leave out cookies and a glass of milk to keep Santa happy.

Our big celebration takes place the following day, on the 25th.  The number of drinks that were had the previous evening generally determines what time things get going on Christmas Day, unless of course children are involved, then parents are usually jumped on rather early and beckoned to the tree to open the presents that Santa left.

Australia is an extremely multicultural country and with this, our traditions are often derived from a mixture of other countries. There is thus no set ‘way’ to do Christmas in Australia, rather a charming mix of traditions depending on your particular family. In my family for example the first cork is usually popped around 11am, and friends call in for a quick drink before lunch. Lunch in Australia is the main Christmas meal. Meats such as turkey, chicken, pork and lamb are served with hot vegetables and other side dishes. Seafood is also very popular as an entrée or even a main course. Dessert is often a Pavlova coated with cream, strawberries and passionfruit or it can be a traditional English pudding with warm custard. Mince Pies, lollies and Christmas bonbons often decorate the table. Christmas lunch can often be a barbecue in the backyard or a picnic on a beach. As Christmas coincides with the Summer Holidays, quite often families will celebrate Christmas away from home.

The afternoon is usually spent relaxing and feeling quite lethargic after such a huge lunch. The evening meal is generally leftovers from lunch (of which there are usually enough to last a couple of days) or we may go to our in-laws for dinner, visit friends or have friends over for a light meal.

The weather is variable at this time of year, it can be between 20 to 40 to 50 degrees depending on where in Australia you are.

The 26th of December (Boxing Day) is also a public holiday in Australia, this is one thing I really miss in France. Lucky my partner is from La Moselle so when we go back to mainland France, this traditions is also applied. In Australia, traditionally it was the day when servants received gifts from their superiors or employers known as a “Christmas Box”. Today throughout Australia, popular activities on this day include digesting the meal from the previous day (in other words, relaxing), going to the beach, braving the first day of Christmas Sales, watching the Melbourne cricket test match or the stunning start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race or just catching up with friends… for a drink.

Vocabulary

Blaring – brûlant
Aussie – un/e australien/ne
Festivities – les fêtes
Catch up with – aller voir / retrouver
Warm – chaud   

Silly season – période de Noel / Nouvel An
Santa – Père Noël
Get going – démarrer
To beckon – appeler
Cork – bouchon   

Call in – passer
Turkey – dinde
Lamb – agneau
Side dishes – accompagnement
Pavlova – gâteau australien   

Custard – crème anglaise
Backyard – une cour arrière
Huge – énorme
Parents-in-law – beaux-parents
Partner – mon ami/e   

Servants – domestiques
In other words – autrement dit
To brave – affronter
Sales – les Soldes

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No Pain, No Gain

Back in February I had the brilliant idea of signing up for La Mascareignes, one of Reunion’s longest trail races. A walk in the park compared to Le Grand Raid, but nevertheless 70kms of mountain trails stood between me and a whole lot of personal glory.

Personal glory because when I arrived in Reunion 6 years ago, I was completely ignorant when it came to hiking and even more so when it came to trail running. Coming from a relatively flat city in Australia, and having parents who always made sure that school holidays were spent at the beach and not in the mountains, hiking for me equated to only one thing – pain!

The first ever hike I did in Reunion was in Salazie. The family with whom I was staying at the time took me there for a weekend, armed with a small publication entitled ’50 easy hikes in Reunion’. I’d like to stress the word ‘EASY’. Now, the walk from Hellbourg up to the gite in Bellouve, is by no means easy for someone who has never hiked before! I was about half way through the torture when I first lay eyes on a ‘raideur’. Lycra clad and going extremely fast, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I turned to my host family in a mix of confusion, disbelief, frustration and a whole lot more … “What…? Why…? What was that…?” I think I managed to spit out. It was then that I learnt about the madness that unfolds in Reunion each year in October.

My second hike – Mafate! The mythical Mafate that everyone spoke of. I couldn’t wait, although after my first outing in Salazie I was somewhat apprehensive. And rightly so. I couldn’t walk for a week after Mafate, but I certainly wasn’t left indifferent at the end of my 3 day escapade.

One particular memory that stands out was having breakfast at a gite in Marla. In the distance I could see a stream of people walking up the face of what seemed to me to be a vertical wall. A friend informed me that this walk was actually quite doable and that the mountain was called le Taïbit. And that on the other side of the peak lay Cilaos! I remember being in sheer amazement. There was nothing ‘doable’ about what I was witnessing. I understood quite quickly why Le Grand Raid was so aptly nicknamed The Diagonal of the Crazies.

How anyone could run or even walk for over 160kms was beyond me. And to do it over such demanding terrain, well, I was in absolute awe. With time, I started meeting people who had not only attempted, but actually finished this race! And more than once! Madness!! And they were just normal people. I started hiking more and more and to my amazement a weekend in Mafate gradually became less and less painful. The impossible was becoming, well a little less impossible.

It did take several years to finally understand what my friends meant when they spoke about the ‘enjoyment’ of trail running. I could never understand how you could ‘enjoy’ hurting so much. But when the suffering diminishes, it’s then that you are privy to the true beauty of Reunion Island – which for me lay far from its lagoons. Through hiking, it was as if I was able to discover Reunion again from scratch. And I was hooked.

Injuries have got the better of me this year, but before my time in Reunion comes to an end, I’m determined to be at one of those starting (and hopefully finishing!) lines in October. For me, the 3 races that take place at this time of year will always be somewhat magical – what a pity they can’t be filmed like the Tour de France to showcase Reunion to the rest of the world.

Vocabulary

to sign up – s’inscrire
a walk in the park – c’est du gâteau
flat – plat
clad – vêtu
madness – la folie

unfold – se déroule
outing  – sortie
apprehensive – craintif
stand out – marquer
a stream of – un flot de

doable – faisable
peak – sommet
sheer – pur
be in awe – être impressionné
from scratch – de zéro

injuries – blessures
get the better of someone – l’emporter sur / prendre le dessus sur

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Turtle Talk

A few weeks ago I had a very dear friend visit from Australia. He had actually just spent the last few months working on a marine conservation project in a small Malagasy fishing village. So upon his arrival in Reunion, I knew just the place to take him! The wonderful Kélonia, in Saint Leu. Naturally, one would think that English is widely spoken in such a popular tourist haunt. Well, I decided to put this assumption to the test!

Now apart from basically pleasantries, my friend doesn’t speak a word of French. I thus pretended to do the same. So off we set to one of Reunion’s most well known tourist attractions to see how two undiscerning English speaking tourists were to be welcomed, and of course, to brush up on our knowledge of the island’s marine life.

We approached the front desk and enquired about entrance costs and closing times. We were somewhat taken aback to be greeted by a receptionist whose English was limited to, “Me, English, no possible”. She then proceeded to make a large ‘X’ with both arms in front of her face to make sure she had got her point across. Flabbergasted, we pointed desperately to an audio guide to hire. “Pièce d’identité” was repeated several times. My friend had no idea what she was asking for, so I followed suit. “Passport” was then the next word uttered, (albeit with a very thick French accent) but my friend cottoned on to the fact that she was after proof of ID. Unfortunately for our friendly receptionist, my friend didn’t think to take his passport with him to the turtle museum. Eventually she gave up and waved us through, shaking her head almost as if it was OUR fault for not speaking French!

After the initial debacle, we continued out visit which was as informative and rewarding as ever. We were however very tempted to jump in the big basin to have a swim with the turtles as we thought to ourselves that nobody would be able to scream at us in English to get out!

Vocabulary

Upon his arrival – à son arrivée
Haunt – lieu de prédilection
Assumption – supposition / hypothèse
Pleasantries – civilités
Thus – donc / ainsi

To set off – partir / s’en aller
Undiscerning – sans discernement
To brush up on – se remettre à niveau
Front desk – l’accueil
To be taken aback – être surpris / choqué 

To get a point across – passer un message
Flabbergasted – étonné
To follow suit – suivre / en faire autant
To utter – dire
Albeit – quoique

To cotton on to the fact – piger
To give up – laisser tomber
Rewarding – gratifiant 

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