My Good Life in France

I’ve just finished reading the very good memoir by Janine Marsh called My Good Life in France. I “knew” Janine as I’ve written a couple of articles for her very popular website, Good Life France, and I enjoy reading the website and I follow the Facebook page too. I was happy to see that she had written a book and interested to read how she came to be living in France.

I love memoirs and especially ones that are set in France. Janine and her husband found their farm almost by accident when a real estate agent called them into his office on a rainy day, gave them coffee and a few printouts of places for sale. They were headed back to catch the ferry to England and stopped at a couple of them and, bang, there it was, a coup de foudre, love at first sight. I don’t know what Janine saw that captured her heart because it sounded rather dreary, something that her father who was with them, pointed out, but they bought it and set off renovating.

The book takes you through the various things done in and around their house, work in the garden where they discovered that it had been used as a dump site for years, and not just for small things. Then animals came into their lives: ducks, chickens, dogs and cats, and they discovered that they were animal lovers. They live in a place in France that I know nothing about, an area called Seven Valleys in the Pay-de-Calais and Janine writes of the warmth of the people along with the happy celebrations that occur. It makes me want to take a look the next time I happen to be in the north of France.

My Good Life in France can be found on Amazaon in paperback if you are in England and in ebook format. It is scheduled to be in the States by February, 2018 but may come out even sooner.


 Janine with rooster, Gregory Peck the second.


1. What would you tell someone thinking about moving to France? (I always say to be really fluent in French). Any words of wisdom?
Well I agree with you on the language, even if you aren’t fluent, try your best to speak French as much as possible, it will really help you to make friends. Accept that things are different in France, particularly when it comes to administration. Paperwork, form filling and bureaucracy are a way of life, you just have to get used to it and go with the flow.
2. Were you an animal lover before you moved to France or did that happen when so many animals appeared in your life?
No – not at all! I’ve never had an animal before and never wanted one!  Actually Fat Cat is sitting on my lap while I’m talking to you and dribbling with happiness! She just appeared at our back door about six months ago and never left.  It started when we found a 4 week old kitten being attacked by a bigger cat in the lovely town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, we bought this tiny wounded bundle home and ever since, animals have been finding us.
3. What are the number counts of the animals in your life?
Currently 6 cats, 3 dogs, 4 geese (but they are all nesting including the boys – on about 60 eggs in total, we are dreading it if they all hatch!), 22 ducks and several of them are nesting and 14 chickens. We also feed 5 hedgehogs who come nightly to the door and if we don’t leave food out, they run rampage over the terrace and knock everything over.
4. What do you like most about France and what bothers you the most? What do you miss back in England?
I love a lot about France, the people and their love of heritage and tradition, the street markets, cakes, cheese, wine, the architecture and beautiful chateaux, sleepy hamlets, the café lifestyle, quirky festivals and the wonderful train service SNCF – I could honestly go on and on! What bothers me? Hmmm tough one, what bothers me? Not a lot really. From my home in France is just 3 hours to central London by car, I can actually be in England in 1.5 hours so I go back and forth a lot because I’ve got family there and because there are things I love about England too and I don’t have to miss them because I’m in the perfect location to have it all.
5. I have found that my friends in France are mostly Americans. Do you have French friends, ones that you can gab with?
I know what you mean, with your expat friends you have a shared heritage and understanding. I have French, American, Australian and UK friends here but if I really want a girly giggle it’s my British friend Annette I turn to. She’s slightly bonkers, absolutely lovely and she would get an Olympic Gold Medal for talking if there was one.
6. Do you have time for hobbies? If so what? I suspect the animals and Good Life in France take up most of your time, not to mention the husband.
I love gardening! This part of France gets lots of rain and the soil is rich. I grow my own veg and fruit as much as possible though I’m going to have to be creative as this year the ducks have figured out they can fly out of the pen and they love the young seedlings! I like to sew too, I’m awful at it but I like the calmness of sewing something. Cooking? Not really despite the fact that my French friends are horrified by my disinterest. I like eating food just not preparing it! I love reading too though I don’t have as much time for that as I’d like, I have 4000 books and we renovated the pig sty to keep them all in!
7. I know from your book that you have come to love the area in France where you live-Seven Valleys-but what other places in France have you come to love? What is special and interesting to you in the area where you live?
There’s not a region in France I haven’t fallen in love with for one reason or another. Alsace, Champagne, Provence, French Riviera, Dordogne, Loire Valley, Picardy, Charente Maritime and lovely La Rochelle. I’m forever ringing Mark my husband when I’m travelling and saying “I want to live here!”. But my heart is in the Seven Valleys – it might not have the sunshine of the south but they say here that the people of the north have the sun in their hearts and it’s true, they are very friendly, welcoming and have a great sense of humour. When you make a friend here, it’s for life.
8. How often do you travel around France? What’s on your list of where to go next?
I travel a lot – I love to discover new parts of France, in fact I’m off to the Loire Valley next week to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau and Clos de Lucé, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci. I’m also off to London to see my sister and my son Harry and his lovely wife and their kids. Next month I’ll visit Avignon, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Nimes in Provence, then I’m off to Carcassonne and Montpelier…
9. Do you have any favourite books that are set in France? Did you read a Year in Provence for instance?
I love that book, Peter Mayle’s descriptions are wonderful and one of the biggest compliments I got was from Samantha Verant author of 7 Letters from Paris (brilliant book, so romantic) who reviewed my book and said “Move over Peter Mayle – there’s a new girl in town and her name is Janine Marsh” – woohoo! I’ve read so many fab books about France (I’m addicted to them), I can’t pick just one.
10. Why do you think people are so taken with France and, especially, Paris? What is it that draws so many visitors? I find that women especially want to live in France.
There are so many things about France to entice. Paris, Provence, Marseille, Lille – fabulous cities, UNESCO listed gastronomy, boulangeries where the waft of a just baked croissant will be a memory that stays with you forever, lavender fields, sunflower fields, cakes, cheese, wine, the Louvre, French Alps and awesome Annecy… so so much. I’ve just started a “reasons to love France” weekly series on my website and I ask people on my Facebook page for their reasons and the list is massive, it’s going to take me years to get to the bottom, in fact I may never finish!

Living Your Dreams

I often read travel memoirs, especially ones set in France and, being as England is just across the channel, most of them are written by English men or women so I was pleasantly surprised to find one by an American, in this case, Cris Hammond, author of From Here to Paris-Get Laid Off, Buy A Barge, Take It To Paris. He’s a Californian who had a successful business in San Francisco, found himself laid off so started taking “paparazzi” photos of people on yachts on the San Francisco Bay and becoming successful at that but finally selling that business and, through a series of events, finds himself the owner of a Dutch barge in France. This book will make you want to go out and buy a barge yourself or at least book the next canal trip you can find. Read along as he and his wife, and faithful dog, learn about barging, find how beautiful France is, how lovely the wine and food and, as most learn when they are in France, a slower pace of life. His sense of humor made me laugh and there were some tender and sad moments as well when he tells of his Dad and best friend. Live your dreams now, don’t put off happiness until later-that’s in his book too. Cris, it turns out, is also a cartoonist and a successful artist. You can see some of his cartoons and, indeed, receive one via email once a week, on his website. I enjoyed his book so much that I decided to write and see if he would answer some interview questions for me. To my delight, he was willing.

One of his gorgeous paintings.

Cris-where are you right now as you answer these questions? From your book I know you divide your time between California and France.

Right now we’re moored on the Yonne River at the town of Auxerre. It’s in northern Burgundy, not far from Chablis. The mooring is on the quayside, across the river from the old town. There’s a beautiful view of the two massive churches and the lovely abbey St. Germain from our aft cockpit, where we wind down each day with our mandatory wine tribute to France.

Phaedra spent the winter moored at the boatyard a day’s journey down river from here, at Migennes. I spent a week at the yard de-winterizing and cleaning before bringing her up here to Auxerre. The last couple weeks have been a lot more boat maintenance, which is the norm. This year it’s new paint on cabin tops and deck and refinishing the teak on the forward cabin sides and skylights. All that said, I’ve found time to go out and do some plein aire drawing in a couple of the villages near here, so it hasn’t all been work. I also admit to several nice lunches and dinners out with friends and a couple Saturday markets in Chablis and Toucy.


2.How do you decide what dates you want to spend in France?

When we first bought the boat, we came over as early as March, which was a mistake, weather-wise. I would go back to the U.S. mid-summer to photograph sailboats on San Francisco Bay. Then, return to France for the fall and we’d leave again when winter started coming on. That’s been our pattern ever since. I no longer do the boat photography thing but I do participate in one, two-week, art show in July back in California. I’ve been lucky enough to sell pretty much everything I produce in France each year at this show, so it pays to bail out of France for July and August each year. Those months are also the time when the canals are the most crowded with rental boats, so we do avoid a lot of traffic.

Winter in Burgundy is not a great time to be living on a boat. It’s too cold, wet and dark for this Californian, so we go back to the U.S. This year though, we’ll be taking Phaedra back to Paris for the winter. The canals close during the winter so we’ll be sort of locked in at the Arsenal harbor until May. That, I’m looking forward to. Paris, to me, is heaven no matter what time of year.

3. Why a barge and not an apartment in France?

That’s easy. It moves. It’s also always on the water.

4. Anything you wished you had known before you bought your barge? Any regrets that you didn’t do something differently? What surprised you about owning a barge? How expensive is it, for instance, for docking for the winter?

We bought Phaedra having absolutely no experience in barging in France. I’d never been through a lock and had only the vaguest notion of what the whole canal system was. I had over 35 years of experience with sailboats, mostly wooden boats, but nothing like this. Maybe that’s why I chose Phaedra out of all the boats I looked at. She was designed as a sailing vessel 90 years ago and she has the graceful lines that I’m familiar with. I can’t imagine a better handling boat. She’s also dependable, comfortable, and pretty. I was very, very lucky.

The cost of owning a boat? I learned long ago that a boat is not anything that could be called an investment. You buy one because you’ve got the bug. The expenses associated with maintenance are pretty comparable to U.S. prices. I do most of my own work, but my biggest challenges have to do with accessing parts and materials. There isn’t a chandlery on every corner like there is back home, so getting parts for odd pumps, or obscure motors can sometimes be difficult. The bright side is that the mooring fees are a fraction of what I’d pay in California. We’ve been renting out our house in Sausalito while we’re in France and it more than covers our costs to live on the boat here.

Of course, Paris will be more expensive than Burgundy, but it is still less expensive than our housing costs in Sausalito. All in all, it’s working out amazingly well.

5. So far, what has been your favorite area in France while exploring the canals? What memory comes to mind when you think of your last voyage?

My favorite canals are the Nivernais and the Loing. They are both beautiful, meandering canals that gain and lose elevation through wonderful country.

Last fall on the Nivernais, we decided to travel only until lunchtime each day. We also set no destination. We’d simply dawdle along, moor up at noon and kick back the rest of the day. The next day, we’d move on, or not, we didn’t care. We found a sweet little mooring in the town of Clamecy and just sat there for three weeks. We perfected “lazy.”

6. Favorite food and wine you discovered here?

Our favorite white wine has been the St. Bris by Felix et Fils. It’s a crisp chardonnay from a village near Chablis. I say it “has been” our favorite but this year, they’ve been offering a 2013 that isn’t as good as the 2012, so we’re searching among the other St. Bris, Chablis, Sancerres, and Vire Clesse’s. We do tend to go through it pretty fast so price is a consideration.

Our favorite cheeses are the Compte, Delice de Bourgogne, Petite Basque, and Tome de Savoir. (pardon my spelling if I got any of them wrong.) Also those little croton d’ chevre are fun to explore.

My wife, Linda, makes the best boeuf bourguignon in France. (She says it’s the cut of meat the butcher gives her here.) I also love salmon tartare and the stuffed trout at Le Petit Guyon in Auxerre.

7. Any words of wisdom to someone thinking about buying a barge?

Don’t get more boat than you need. I see some of these people piling bells and whistles on their boats to the point you’d think they were planning to round Cape Horn in the dead of winter. By the end of your first day of cruising, you’ll discover that granite counter tops and an Aga stove won’t be of any use in getting you safely into a lock off a stampeding river. Also, tons of expensive electronic gizmos usually are of no real use and tend to fail at the worst time. Remember, a canal is mostly still water. If it’s raining, or foggy, or the river’s in flood, take a break. This isn’t the Royal Navy.

Make sure the boat you’re looking at will go on the canals you want to explore. I’ve known people who have bought boats because they wanted to travel the Canal de Bourgogne or the Nivernais, only to find out that the boat is too tall to fit in the Bourgogne tunnel or too deep to go on the Nivernais. Kinda puts a damper on things.

Love your bow thruster. (This is a part of a barge-it’s in the book.)

8. What do you love most in Paris?

The list is too long, but I’ll just say it’s the feeling that comes over me when I’m there. I don’t know where it comes from, past lives? I don’t know. But when I’m in Paris I feel youth washing all over me and I’m happy. I discovered Paris on a backpacking summer when I was in college and it just grabbed something deep in my soul. Maybe it touches the artist in me.

9. Your life in California-the differences. What you do when there? How often do you paint? How long does it take you to come up with a cartoon? Does being in France add to your creativity? Other than the subject, has it changed how you paint?

In California, I have long established roots and connections, friendships and family that I don’t have here in France. Life back there has its routines that are admittedly comforting. Life on the boat in France has its routines as well, but they are somehow fleeting, making each day seem a bit of an adventure. Going to the hardware store in the U.S. wouldn’t normally be an adventure, but a trip to Mr. Bricolage in France can be full of surprises.

I do art in both places but I’m starting to concentrate on bronze sculpture in California where I have a studio and workshop. I don’t have the same set-up here in France. Actually, I’ve been doing more simple pencil sketching and drawing the last couple years. Painting in oil on the boat pretty much takes over the whole cabin and the mess and smell is tough on Linda, so I’ve concentrated more on just drawing. I get in the car and wander around until a find a nice village church or something, then sit down and go to work. Then I come back to the boat and work over four or five days to do a finished rendering.

Cartoons are another thing. I’ve been doing cartoons all my life, with and without captions. For the last couple years I’ve been doing single panel cartoons with captions. The inspiration starts with the writing. It comes from a different part of the brain than the drawing. I get into a writing mode for a couple of weeks and end up with 10-30 captions. Then I switch to the drawing brain, and see if they’re funny. Frankly, the cartoon inspirations come more often when I’m in the U.S., perhaps because of all those long established roots, connections, and friendships.


There is an emotional routine that this life has created. We’re in California for six months through the winter, and by spring, we’re really looking forward to getting back to the boat. It’s all excitement and jet lag when we arrive, with so much to look forward to. The energy is high. Then, about late June, we start missing our kids and friends a little, and the idea of getting back home looks good.

July and August at home, taking care of business and sliding back into old routines and the images of cruising through some beautiful countryside start to beckon. So, we’re ready and excited to go back to Phaedra and do some exploring. The cold starts to set in and the rain comes more often in late September and into October. The warm, dry house with forced air heating starts to look pretty good, and we begin to long for home. Six months of winter later, and the cycle begins again.

It’s great to always have the next adventure to look forward to.