When we tell people that we’re planning to pull up stakes and move to Normandy we get one of two reactions.
About half of time we’re told “Oh wow! That’s exciting!” Followed quickly by “Can I come and visit you?” That’s from the people who understand exactly why we’ve decided to leave, and for whom no further explanation is needed. They’re also usually the people who are, in fact, invited. It seems that it’s impossible to buy a property in Normandy that doesn’t include a “gîte,” the uniquely French guest accommodation that Wikipedia describes as:
… to be called a gîte, the owner must live close by in order to provide help, assistance, and a warm welcome to guests. Gîtes are generally old farmworkers’ cottages or converted outbuildings and barns within proximity of the owner’s principal residence. This type of holiday accommodation is sometimes regarded as “basic”‘ in terms of facilities; however, most gîtes are generally very well kept, and a growing number will have excellent facilities such as fully fitted kitchens, en-suite bathrooms, TV, DVD, and access to a swimming pool or other sporting activities. The term gîte nowadays encompasses most forms of holiday cottage and even holiday flats or apartments. Many gîtes will also accept pets.
So yes, if you know our phone number and email you can consider yourself invited. As for the people who ask “Can I come live with you?”….. that’s subject to negotiation.
The other group of people get confused and ask “France? Why?” and are harder to deal with because their expectations and aspirations are so different from ours.
I was born and raised in Canada, and gained my national consciousness during the 1967 Centennial year, a time when Canadians from coast to coast (with some exceptions in Québec) actually felt proud and hopeful about this country – with no cynicism or irony. It was an era that came before Canadians felt the need to explain, “Well, at least we’re not Americans.”
Maybe I’m just older, or maybe things really have changed, but that optimism and pride seem to be long gone. In recent years I’ve played a game with people on-line and off. I’ve asked them to tell me what are the attributes that define a “Canadian” person. I tell them that they aren’t allowed to choose from the usual Canadian clichés: Tim Hortons, hockey, peacekeeping, poutine, or maple syrup. Without exception they come up empty-handed.
When I look at Canada today I see a country that has lost its sense of direction, its soul. Culturally we’re once again overwhelmed by American entertainment, and even our most successful Canadian artists are either living in the US, or create nothing that is distinctly “Canadian.”
There was a time when I truly thought that would change, when our Federal government understood the value of developing our own culture. Some of that was done through the use of broadcast regulation, some through publishing, and some though generous funding of writers, artists, and performers. Since that time the “Arts” became the “Entertainment industry,” and success came to be defined by sales in the American market, or by the number of movie people employed here by American production companies.
Living in North Vancouver I’ve always been conscious that there really is very little interest in building a strong artistic and cultural community. Even though we’re home to many musicians, painters, dancers, and other creative individuals, we lack the sort of venue that most other places have – a Shadbolt Center for instance, where all manner of arts are developed and encouraged.
I don’t know why Burnaby has made this investment, while North Vancouver hasn’t. Yes the new Polygon Gallery is nice but it isn’t the hub of learning and exploration that the Shadbolt offers. I suspect that North Shore politicians are just reflecting the priorities of more senior levels of government, For instance, while Scotland spends $20 per capita on Arts Grants, Canada manages a paltry $4.15. (ten year old figures, but nothing has changed for the better.)
And keep in mind that for many, many years British Columbia has had the lowest provincial arts funding in Canada by a significant margin. We’ve been literally starving our creative people to the point where they either leave, or just give up.
And France? €15 Billion a year, or roughly €225 per capita or $350 Canadian dollars per capita – and that’s after funding cuts during the “restraint” era.
If art museums, opera, concerts, and other cultural pursuits are important for our quality of life, where do you think that we want to be? North Vancouver or Normandy?
Trust me, when we’ve left behind the North Shore we’ll be humming “Non, je ne regrette rien.”
Post-script: And then there’s Iceland…