Thursday 14 May 2020

Detour de France, Michael Simkins

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Simkins takes himself on a three month jaunt around France to broaden his horizons and learn more about the reality of French life. What ensues is a series of amusing encounters that don’t always go to plan but demonstrate his commitment to trying new things and breaking old habits. This can be as simple as taking a dip in the sea, playing a game of petanque, or letting go of his inhibitions and spending a day in a naturist resort. He visits a few popular tourist sprts such as Arles but rarely for the reasons many visit, always searching for a taste of the real France. Despite his hesitation on embracing some of the experiences, he comes to appreciate the time taken over a good meal, the climate, and the importance of doing things properly.

At one point he plays cricket with a group of British immigrants, who despite their moaning about both their home country and their new, all admit to being pleased with their choice despite the sacrifices involved. By the end he is himself quite enamoured by the country but can see its flaws, especially in its infamous bureaucracy and ardent nationalism.

This is an easy to read account of a sometimes ill-fated exploration of a great country with its mystifying rituals and effortless chic. He is able to laugh at both himself and the situations he finds himself in. The humour is occasionally cringey but often genuine and self-deprecating, and you get an insight into what France has to offer the curious tourist determined to step outside his comfort zone.

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