There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood, And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don’t know how to rest.
As you can see from this fairly accurate artist’s impression, this stretched goatskin parchment is not dissimilar to the outline of France. This parchment (or, if you will allow this contrived metaphor to continue, carte blanche), has proved to be just the creative outlet the jaded English middle classes craved. Over 500,000 people have paralleled their forefathers’ hugely popular land trading game Entente Cordiale by talking turkey with the French – around 30% of whom wholeheartedly agree with Dorothy that There’s No Place Like (Someone Else’s French Countryside) Home. There is but one tiny problem with this de rigueur gentrification of Provence, Brittany and the Dordogne – the English. Whatever it may be that drives the droves to drive through Dover, more than enough have forgotten they’re not in Kansas any more. Tales of Conservative Clubs popping up is the kind of pitiful recidivism we’ve come to expect, but the neocolonialism of property speculators is a far more worrying trend.
Some of the most conspicuous sights of the world are in France – most notably the staggering For Sale sign currently towering over Paris. L’hôtel de la Marine is the latest monument to be lost to the highest vested interest, a turn which all but garroted the President’s public opinion. While the current military involvement in Libya may yet curry favour with those wondering where the country’s spine has gone, this kind of surrender of the country’s land is the annexe of urban and rural loss most recently seen in the wound-licking economies of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The French have a right to be worried – foreign money brings foreign problems.
As a disclaimer, the meaty example I’m going to use is bloody rare (for that is how the French like it). The Château de Fretay resort was supposed to be the motif of expat luxury – a designer mansion retreat replete with a one hundred acre golf course. But for Joanne and Robert Hall, the epitaph of their little Englander renovation will be mistaken as hardboiled crime fiction. It would be churlish to suggest that their ignorance of French tradition and customs held their project back so long; however, their naïvetés towards the duplicity of French bureaucracy certainly curbed progress (within a year abroad they were humoured towards using their wealth for such hare-brained endeavors as a hot air balloon station). The desired open golf resort was unfortunately always going to be a non-starter – French law rather self-preservatingly states that three trees must be planted in the same region for every one cut down. If, as with Robert Hall, you don’t speak the lingo, promoting bio-diveristy to well-forested locals can be quite trying. While you can’t knock the ambition, the Halls had previous for catastrophic blueprints. A beleaguering trail of bailiffs, trading injunctions and abandoned enterprises led to them Channel hopping into relative exile – all the more disconnected given that after a decade in France the only Halls that spoke fluent French were the children. If they, like their parents, hadn’t been able to speak more than their mother tongue, would they have had the freedom or even inclination to call the police? It would seem that providence only intervenes for the purposes of justice.
The prosecutors office claim that a drunken, violent row resulted in the accidental death of Joanne Hall. But after ten years in monoglot exile, the cogent mind must surely be vacuum packed. Due to the treatment of Joanne’s dead body the police are investigating Robert for aggrevated murder. Claiming that he was carrying out his wife’s entombment wishes, Robert burned Joanne’s body before adding her ashes to the building site cement mixer in order to create a DIY mausoleum. Whether this is a short-sighted lover’s tryst or a short-sighted ensconcement attempt is for the courts to decide. Would this have happened were the Halls not so financially and domestically tethered to and yet so linguistically marooned in the Breton region? I’m not convinced. While its highly plausable that something so psychopathic would, in time, have happened on these shores, a large part of me would hope that the arterial human interaction of any society would negate the potential writing of many harrowing annals.
The Hall’s business model could have been applied to any country. So why France? Acres of natural British forest can be hard to come by – and rightly so. The red-faced shame of Cameron’s forest sell-off u-turn thankfully brought politics back in line with the thoughts of the public. Open forests remain one of the few pre-capitalist sensual joys still available. They serve as a fourth dimension through which our placing along the line of time becomes blurry – trees, plants and animals will live long before and long after our flash-in-the-pan human race does. Coasts recede and cities decay, but forests replenish. To own them is futile, and too much of a burden for mortal man. The current coalition government saw fit to try and pass on their responsibility in exchange for a quick buck or two (hundred and fifty million) – a parallel universe which may have ensured the wood-owning Hall’s kids are alright. But when you vote in favour of robbing Peter to pay Paul you effectively mortgage the next generation’s life away. One Owl had to learn the hard way when he was told ‘your property is at risk if you do not keep up repayments’. Yet in the not too distant future, should you not safeguard yourself from the Tories, your children will gasp when you tell them there was a time when you could walk freely through any Hundred Acre Wood.