It seems like only yesterday that I was standing at the front of a French class in Leeds, making police siren noises with a power ranger zapper in a vain effort to motivate 35 bored year 11 pupils - and suddenly here I am! A ‘webmaster’ (or should that be mistress?) and magazine editor in the Pyrenees Orientales in North Catalonia, south west France. Wow! What a life change. So how did it all start?
Well......are we all sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin
After moving over here in 2003, we found ourselves buying a house, registering with the health and social security schemes, dealing with legal issues, registering cars, looking at schools etc with minimum help and advice available specific to the region. I am bilingual and husband, Olivier, ex Leeds university lecturer, is French so the language wasn’t a problem, and yet we STILL found it difficult to cope with all the paperwork and understand the small print! What must it be like for those who were struggling with the language?
Of course, there were books and guides and a growing number of websites dealing with France in general but the Pyrénées-Orientales and the Catalans remained a mystery. I unravel a little more every day but there is still so much to learn about this region of Canigou, cherry blossom and mimosa, relatively undiscovered, and to many a simple stopover on the way to Spain. P-O Life started off as a mission to introduce the Pyrénées-Orientales to the rest of the world!
Further investigation revealed that there was in fact a very large Anglophone community in the Roussillon, (Brits, Scandinavians, Americans…..) in many cases hungry for contact with other ’ex pats’, often unable to communicate and therefore integrate with the locals due to language difficulties, or sometimes just longing for a bit of ‘home comfort’. A website therefore seemed like a good medium to bring both ex pats, holiday home owners and tourists together via a forum which would enable them to swap ideas and advice, access general information and share experiences, and most importantly, to encourage French visitors to the site to interact with the English speakers – an exchange of language, culture, humour….
Seven years down the line, the forum is a thriving hive of restaurant and wine recommendations, tips and advice, which shops, firms, trades people to use (or not to use!), silly banter, daft jokes, serious discussion between both French and English speakers of the region, the occasional argument ☺.... and the main site is a treasure trove of information that I was unable to find when I first moved here.
And most exciting is that from the site has been born P-O Life Magazine, an original and informative booklet, much in demand by the English speaking community; local news, daft jokes, walks, days out, fascinating facts, French and English lessons ... anything to teach, inform, amuse..............
As for my life here in the Pyrenees-Orientales? I don’t think I will ever tire of the careless beauty of this region. It is not neat and organised like many parts of the Cote d’Azur with carefully planned palm trees and regimentally planted flower beds standing to attention. It is wild and colourful, scattered with vines, fruit trees and flowers in every hue.
Take your time exploring the site. If you’re not already a fan of the Pyrenees-Orientales, you soon will be!