Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Visioning the Future

Jane’s pictures of the market in Limoges rekindled in me the common British desire to live in France. As countless TV lifestyle and property shows will tell you, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the French way of life that really appeals. We travelled to Brittany a few years ago to visit my wonderful piano teacher. She lives in a traditional house in a small town with winding streets, a steepled church, and boulangeries and patisseries galore. From our bedroom window we could see the peaceful rooftops of the town; we visited the markets, and sat with our café au lait and croissants at pavement cafés. We talked about how we would one day buy a place in France – “it’s the quality of life that’s different,” we said.

One of the challenges of foreign travel, notes popular philosopher Alain de Botton, is that you can never truly leave yourself behind. Being on holiday in France allows us to relax and unwind, and drink coffee in pavement cafés, but eventually we have to go home and carry on with our old lives. But why is this? Why don’t we do the same kinds of thing in England as we do on holiday in France? OK, the weather can sometimes be an issue, but I don’t think the Breton weather is that different from that in the south of England?

It’s our state of mind that’s different. At home, we’re often governed by the pace of life around us. We have mortgages to pay, bills to pay, things to buy. We do everything at breakneck speed, and all the trappings of modern life both cater for that speed, and promote it. And, each of us, in the decisions we make day in and day out, both accept and promote that pace of life. We drive to the supermarket because we don’t have time to shop in any other way. We have no time because we feel we have to be constantly on the move or be left behind.

It seems strange that all the things we love about France (or Italy, or Spain, or any other place we go on holiday) are the things that we don’t seem to value at home, that we relegate to two holiday weeks in our year.

What would it be like if the other 50 weeks of our year reflected the things we love in those precious two? Local shops, bustling markets, cafes selling local specialities? That feeling of real quality of life. 100 years ago, the centres of Norwich and Limoges were probably similar in their very uniqueness. What changed?

I’m certainly not blind to the benefits of the progress we’ve made in those last 100 years. In many ways, there’s never been a better time to live in. And we're incredibly lucky to live in Norwich, with all its Lanes and many local and independent shops. But it’s worth thinking about those things that make life special that we think we’ve lost. And remember that their loss is not reversible. We are the architects of our own world.

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