A week ago, I was waking up in a small university town (Angers) in western France, at the end of a short break visiting my eldest daughter who’s studying there. Dare I say it, but I fell in love with France once again. From overseas (and reading too many articles in The Economist), France can look like a mess – poor integration, burdensome taxation levels, inability to reform, terrorism, etc. But on the ground, particularly in the ‘provinces’, you realise how much France works.
Angers is a small town – you come off the motorway and you’re almost immediately in the city centre. We parked up in a massive free parking area in the heart of the city under an avenue of plane trees. For an affordable sum, my daughter has a decent studio one step back from the river that runs through the centre. The ancient medieval fortress and cathedral are just 5 minutes’ walk away.
Picking up a local free newspaper, it’s immediately apparent the wealth of cultural activities taking place over the coming weeks, even in this small town. The day after we arrived there was a giant sports day for the city, with events all over the place, including kayaking and volleyball in the river. Over the same weekend there was a jazz festival, while the following weekend hosted a book festival and a tattoo festival.
In the interests of time, I won’t mention the medieval history (including the world’s oldest existing large tapestry), the ancient cobbled streets, the fine cafes and restaurants, the tiny bakeries and butchers around the corner and the incredible weather. Last Friday, I headed out around 10pm for a stroll around town, the sun still setting, the temperature perfect, and the town a buzz with families, as well as students celebrating the end of the academic year. It’s exactly 15 years on from my first real experience of France – three months spent in Grenoble living with students and trying to learn French. The same vibe was there, only this time I could understand everything everyone was saying.
The planned ‘2030 pivot’ is still a long way off. But after this trip, I felt more likely that this coming period of life will now see significantly more time in France. I know madame would be happy with that. Perhaps it’ll be a life split between the French provinces and Abidjan – the former for comfort, the later for engagement. We’ll see. L’homme propose, Dieu dispose.