“6 April 2013
We are now in France, and are having a great time. We visited the Disneyland yesterday. We had a lot of fun, but were all exhausted when we came back to the hotel after 10pm. Thomas said, ‘this is the 2nd best day in my life.’ I asked him which day was his best day. He said it would be the day he could take his own children to the Disneyland. He is writing down all the nice places and nice hotels we are visiting and staying so that he can one day take his children when he is elder. We all quietly laugh at him. He has also had his 2nd worst day in his life in France apparently, a comment he made when he was eating a yummy French cheese cake, sitting under the sun at Place Stanislas in Nancy. He said we were stressing him out by taking him to so many museums and making him walk too much. I replied, ‘if this is your 2nd worst day in your life, you must be having a bloody good life!’
We went to the top of Eiffel Tower today. Both children were very impressed. Now they want us to take them to Burj Dubai on the way home. …… Tomorrow I will take children to visit Champs Elysses and École normale supérieure (I am too crazy about ENS )…… Then we will have a French dinner to celebrate my birthday.”
This was a journal entry I wrote during our family trip to Europe in 2013. Thomas was seven and Skye was about to turn 10. Reading the journal, it has certainly brought back a lot of fond memories.
While we were in Nancy, we visited the statue of Henri Poincaré, a French genius whose conjecture was proved by Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman in 2003. Poincaré conjecture was one of the seven Clay Mathematics Institute’s Millennium Prize Problems. I always have a soft spot for Poincaré, a polymath, whose originality, diversified interests, visual thinking method jumping from one idea to another, and his massive interest in inventing rather than solving problems remind me a lot of Skye.
Since Skye was little, he loved to create Maths questions for Thomas to solve. A few weeks ago, I asked Skye how come his passion in Maths had declined. He said he still loved Maths, but he found that there was usually only one correct answer for a Maths question whereas with arts, music and writing, there can be endless answers and are more open ended which gave him more room to create. I was intrigued by his view.
When we were asking for direction at a bus stop in Nancy, we met a retired university professor. He was well spoken, and was very kind to us. He made comments about how much he liked Australia and Australian people which really touched us.
The visit a few days later to École normale supérieure was another interesting one. It was my birthday. After leaving Champs Elysses, my husband headed straight to Louvre Museum as he did not share my passion in ENS and did not want to indulge my craziness by turning up at the university without any prior arrangement.
Determined that École normale supérieure, the school that had produced the most Nobel Prize laureates and Fields Medallists, would be the right school for Skye and Thomas to attend in future, I had no problem convincing the children, who thought going anywhere was better than visiting another museum, to join me. We set out the trip to ENS.
After some detour, we were finally approaching ENS according to the map. By then, Thomas had already had enough. “Mum, I don’t want to win a Nobel Prize. I have had enough walking! You and Skye can go by yourselves.”
“Mum, I don’t know why you even bother to bring Thomas along. He is still a baby. He is not going to win a Nobel Prize!” Skye was annoyed that Thomas walked so slowly and was wasting his time.
“We are here already!” I exclaimed. “Quick kids, stand in front and let mum take a photo of you.” Thomas declined my request, and Skye reluctantly stood there for a photo (see on the Facebook page).
The next 15 minutes were more dramatic. The school was shut for the Easter break. The door was locked. I knocked and knocked, but no answer. Children said what a waste of trip that was. I was quite disappointed as well. We were just about to leave, a student came through the door. I quickly grabbed the opportunity and begged him to let us in. He was really not sure what to do with us. I then explained that we came all the way from Australia to visit ENS because of its reputation. He was moved by my sincere effort and asked us to be quick.
So there we were, standing right in the middle of ENS and looking around, but were totally underwhelmed by the unremarkable buildings, a big contrast to the remarkable people the school had produced. This theme has resonated with me for a long time. I realised that one’s desire and one’s dream, but not physical surroundings, are what take us on the journey and make us eventually reach our potential. It reminds me of Martin Boyd’s quote:
“Our minds are like those maps at the entrance to the Metro stations in Paris. They are full of unilluminated directions. But when we know where we want to go and press the right button, the route is illuminated before us in electric clarity.”
Looking back, my husband and I have had a long love relationship with France, or anything French. French is my synonym of Synaesthesia, powerfully creative, incredibly open-minded, appreciatively aesthetic, mysteriously imaginative, and uniquely mind-twisting.
Watching French movies on SBS (Australian Special Broadcasting Service) was one of our favourite passing times. How we loved those twists and incredible endings!
Then it comes to French science and literacy. The unique Émilie du Châtelet was someone whom I have been hugely admiring for a long time. Her intelligence, her romance with Voltaire, and their shared residence at Chateau de Cirey have inspired my curiosity, learning and lifestyle in every possible way.
Recently, I have also got fascinated by two great French writers: Victor Hugo and Gustove Flaubert. I am in the middle of reading Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Getting more and more excited about our next house move and opening a new chapter of life, I had a heartfelt moment when I read this:
“The first was the day of her going to the convent; the second, of her arrival at Tostes; the third, at Vaubyessard; and this was the fourth. And each one had marked, as it were, the inauguration of a new phase in her life. She did not believe that things could present themselves in the same way in different places …” (Excerpt From: Flaubert, Gustave. “Madame Bovary.” iBooks.)
While the nation is mourning the loss of the victims in France, we take time to reflect. Above all, we are finding the new courage to carry on the spirits of the lost ones.
Yesterday, Skye shared an Octopoem that he wrote recently at school. I would like to dedicate the poem to people around the world who are being affected by this tragic event, especially French people.
HAPPINESS is like rising SCARLET,
Like the sweet maple syrup on well-cooked pancakes;
Like the beautiful sight of the spring breezy wind,
The smell of the autumn trees sitting by the nearby lakes.
HAPPINESS looks like the sunset of a Hawaiian beach,
The beautiful sounds of freedom on the shore;
OH, the lush feel of the tip of a dream,
SCARLET is the victorious colour always to HAPPILY energize, never to bore.