Celtic Wedding – Dublin 2001

Today is a special day, my event horizon, November 6th… How could I ever forget this date that will probably start to fizzle out from now on, like the sleeves of my old favourite woolly jumper from Donegal. November 6th, when I closed the door on childhood and adolescence to start another, like a young flightless guillemot jumping off a bottomless cliff, I had to take the plunge, take control of my life at last and become my own man, sticking my middle finger in the process to all the critics and detractors who discouraged me…

So long suckers!

November 6th… Half my life now spent in Ireland, what a ride it has been! While looking at the dominical morning sun coming through the sash window of the cottage, a nosy wren entered the gap I had left slightly open during the night; I love sleeping to the sounds of the sycamore outside, bleeding its leaves at the slightest of breezes. It reminded me of my first love and passion as an ornithologist, the wonderful hours I had spent in the old salt marshes, glimpsing at the black tailed stilts and avocets and the joy I felt that afternoon when I was sitting on my neighbour’s swing staring at the sky, and thousands of Brent geese flew over my head, returning from their Arctic summer with very young families, first trip for a lot of them. The rite of passage, a walk about or whatever you want to call it, I think my time had come.

Sycamore through the sash window

In all those years, people often asked me these simple questions; out of plain curiosity or utter dismay: why did I leave? “It must have been for a girl” I have often heard, or “you came here to work?”, again nope, both of those things would come naturally, if they do they do… I even got, and this one is my favourite, “are you mad? You left France? To come and live here? Are you well?” The truth is, it is only recently that I have started telling the real reasons behind my move. And yes, of course, France had great things to offer I am sure, maybe for people with money, or if you wanted to play it safe, for some of my friends with absolutely no prospect of an exciting future… I felt held back. Every project, each opportunity of making something nurturing and rewarding to me was dwarfed or laughed at by the administration. I couldn’t be who I wanted to be, from Birdman to sound engineer… The shackles of frustration started to rattle and break.

Still Birdwatching

There was also the “Culture” thing; the elephant in the room, my personal ball and chain. France never allowed its natives, Bretons, Basques, Corsicans, Catalans and others to feel emancipated in their own cultures, enjoying one’s real mother tongue so I could converse in my own Celtic language with my Grand Parents, Great Grand Mother ( I was 18 when she passed away) and other Aunts and Uncles. I was not allowed to feel who I wanted to be. So one day, after touring with a local Rock band for nearly two years, on a morning like this one, I asked my Dad for £300 and bought myself a single ticket, bound for Ireland. I stopped with my rucksack in The Cactus bar to say my final goodbyes; some were proud, others jealous: I even heard one of the numb skulls shouting “you’ll be back in a month” while sipping on his third Maes Pils; I ignored him,felt a bit sorry but it stayed with me. That was it; it happened half my life ago on a November 5th.

Hungry Breton and two of his crew

So was it worth it? Hell yes. I am not saying it was easy, but after a month I had already felt washed down, free, no one to tell me what to do or rather what I should be doing. I remember the smell of coal floating over Sligo, my first port of call in this incredible journey. I didn’t become a professional ornithologist, but I still contribute by sharing my data and bringing people on walks sometimes. I became a pizza chef first, something I will develop next time, a cook, a cheesemonger… Me!? I witnessed the emancipation of a country on so many ways, from Peace process to food revolution. I met wonderful people, from all over the globe, feeding my thirst for cultures, I loved wonderful people, worked with them, I drank their laughter and sometimes times their sorrows, in different colours and accents, from different horizons and I loved it, I really loved it. I even shared a pint of stout with Bono one day… I came real close to full throttle Irishness that day!

Chef’s jacket and apron… Glad I hung them boots!
Still makes the odd pizza though…

So today is November 6th, I am twenty two years on this Island. I can hear that phrase often “sure! You’re Irish by now!” and yet, I am not. I am not going to lie to you; I have been meaning to get my Irish citizenship for the last four years at least… Something is missing. I will always be Breton, that stuff sticks to you better than salted caramel at the bottom of a pan, the same way a Kerry man will always be a Kerry man I guess. I looked into it, and got overwhelmed by the administrative task. So last month, I tried again and found a much clearer form from the Department of justice, only to find out that I would have to pay €900 ($1000) when I will be accepted if I get accepted. I couldn’t accept that. After all that time, being a good “citizen”, taxpaying, law abiding who just can’t vote… Yes, something is missing. But that’s ok, I am not mad, I can last a bit longer in that state of statelessness, an apatride Breton who belongs and don’t belong to neither country, no matter how hard you look at it… Yes, it’s been quite a ride; I am looking forward to the next twenty two, if you’ll allow me that is.

Sycamore through the sash window

Keep Well and Eat Happy

Slán Tamall


21 thoughts on “Apatride

  1. I never realized that is how minorities in France felt about their language and culture.
    I made a similar move myself, so can empathize with lots of what you’ve written, despite the different circumstance. I think the change is more about the actual uprooting, that makes you see and feel things differently, as there are many people here in the US, and I’m sure in Ireland too, who feel just as trapped in the world they were raised in. They in their turn need to move around to get that sense of freedom…

    1. France and Greece are the two only European countries who do not encourage the emancipation of native languages. I think France went the wrong way about this. It would be a much stronger country if each region were given more cultural freedom. Interesting also to see that these regions are doing much better, are more open to foreigners and much more pro-active in business. A journalist used to say “Culture is adventure”. So true and vice versa. Thank you for reading!

  2. Franck, what an amazing journey for you. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and reading about what called you to Ireland and what keeps you there – excellent! Thank you for sharing this – makes my day! 🙂

  3. How about a crowd-fund for the registration fee? Okay, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek, but I’d throw in a tenner. Then again, you’re right; there should be no fee, and at this stage, they should just give you the damn paperwork. As a graphic designer, the best I can offer is to design you something for free. I used to do the certs for the local community awards in my town, so I am amply qualified 😉
    Anyway, as a half-Irish/half English man, I empathise fully, and to paraphrase Joni, ‘we don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall’ to tell us how to feel.

  4. YOu speak to my heart on so many levels in this post. The love of your land but the feeling of asphyxiation that accompanied staying there. It can happen anywhere. For me the same is true of England. Of Ireland – well if my marriage hadn’t been such a total car-wreck Id have stayed in a heartbeat. In fact I almost upped sticks and moved back about 22 years ago oddly enough and was stopped by one of my cheese making friends husband (you know them – the Ferguson’s at Gubbeen) … he said if I turned up with four children in tow (the youngest only 2 years old) with no job I would be shunned by the locals. So I stayed where I was and the itch in my feet got greater and greater and at the first opportunity I headed to France three years ago. You speak to my heart loudly and I wish you continued happiness as a stateless wonder like me. We are quite wonderful don’t you think!

      1. I actually was wondering if you might be a bit upset about this short story; then, and like you said, it where you feel right that matters. I worked with an Italian guy in Galway. a good guy… He told me one day:” I think I was born in the wrong place”. Insightful… Your previous comment inspired me. I am a man of Peace after all. 🙂

  5. What a lovely read 🙂 I can relate to this on so many levels, and I feel the same way about citizenship, that’s why I haven’t gone through the process myself. You will have to tell the story about that pint you had with Bono because I sure want to read all about it 😉

  6. Not at all upset … I really enjoyed it and like I said it struck so many chords. This is a small and ever smaller planet, the Italian fellow you worked with has it right, I think – some of us are born in the wrong place. And there are others who just feel displaced. For me I was a bit of both, I think. I have the most English of English voices (my friends tease me that I should have been a BBC News Reader) but England is not my home and never was. I have no idea why it just doesn’t feel like I think home is meant to feel. FRance does. Italy did. Ireland did. So it must be something in the Thames water that fails me!!!!

    1. Hear, hear… I used to work on the Island of Hoedic, tiny, south of Brittany. I felt great freedom there. When I came back from Ireland for the 1st time, my friend’s mother picked us up at the station and just said: ” Ireland is going to be the new Hoedic for you…” How right was she?

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