I Only Kiss the Altos

Not long after we bought a house in France I began looking for a group with whom to share my passion and my addiction and at a fair in the local village –  purportedly showcasing the best of the terroir but really the annual autumn “Thank God The Tourists Are Gone Festival” – I found them. Women such as I, addicted to textiles and colours, the needle, the scissors and thread.  The members of “St Jo Patch” took me in as one of their own and off we went, from house to house each week, sewing and swapping swatches and trading ideas and news, offering praise and encouragement and humour and eating sweet cake.   Initially all local, we were subsequently joined by an Austrian and an American, and now it is a truly international group…..but still retaining the warmth, customs and culture of the Haute Savoie.


One such custom is the kissing of all the copines not once, but twice on arrival, and not once, but twice, on departure (though, we’re not the worst; if we were a mere half an hour over the border in Switzerland, there would be three kisses each, that’s six per person ….sixty kisses per sewing session.)   The international members of my local Anglophile bookclub have also adopted this custom but with them, I can stand up when I want to go, give an all encompassing ‘urbi et orbi’ type wave, say “consider yourselves kissed” and leave.  At least they get it, but with my inadequate French and their politesse and generosity of spirit, I couldn’t risk possibly insulting my French friends with a mere wave, so half an hour later, amid coats and bulging work baskets and the wrapping of buns for husbands, we are still backing out the door.


Recently I was discussing this with my friend Síle who is also a transplant from Ireland to France.  On settling in, she also found a group of like-minded people locally, in her case, a choir, with whom she sings each week and with whom she now shares both the high notes and the low notes of life as well as chanson.  “There are fewer than a dozen people in my group to go around on…..how do you manage – with an entire CHOIR to kiss?” I asked…….”Oh no” said Síle matter-of-factly “I only kiss the altos.”   Aithíonn ciaróg ciaróg eile……….and as Síle sings with the altos, it does indeed stand to reason that she would limit her favours to members of her own group.


Kissing is all very well, for it is – literally – face to face.   But what about the new etiquette governing the dispersal of virtual kisses, those one is now expected to offer – or wishes to proffer – in texts and emails? Trouble is, once one starts, it’s very hard to stop…..because if one stops, the recipient questions the lack of ‘xxxs’ fearing displeasure or exclusion.


…..and then, what about keeping in touch at all?  One has family – including an ever-increasing number of nieces, nephews cousins and the partners of one’s friends and relation’s children, one has an ever-decreasing number of parents and aunts and uncles……..one has old sweethearts and their partners and children and their children’s children, one has a few close friends, a circle of pals and lots of aquaintances – and now one has virtual friends and friends back in one’s life from the past……


I’m stumped.   Every year at Christmas (well, sometimes St Valentine’s Day, or maybe even St Patrick’s Day, but still……) I used to write a round-robin letter to a long list of people, keeping them up to date with our news.  Then life, and Christmases (and St Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day) got more complicated, and postage went up and technology became more advanced, so one didn’t actually have to post anything any more……so I started writing emails.  Now I’m joined Facebook.  Trouble is, my dear Auntie Maura isn’t on Facebook and neither is my good friend Suzanne and my best friends Fiona, Kathryn and Una -all far too profound and busy to get involved in such shallow communication – who get miffed when I say “Oh just ask your husband/daughter to show you their Facebook page – the photos are all on that……”


I don’t like the telephone.  One has to talk to people on the telephone and since I gave up broadcasting – and indeed chasing ambulances by ‘phone and doing interviews – I don’t do ‘phone calls except to close family, close associates or in extremis (“M’aidez!”) But if I were to write to everyone, to keep in touch individually with friends in all latitudes, I would be here at a ginny all day. (Rather like the ‘ginny’: remember the “Cotton ginny”? It is the abbreviation of “engine” and as I always call computers “machines” why not engines? )…..but even if I were chained to the ginny all day I still wouldn’t have been in direct contact with Aunt Monica or Uncle Patrick who don’t hold with such doings, and I would therefore have to write, fold, address, lick, stamp, lick – and most difficult of all, actually post – letters to tell them this niece is thinking of them, and let them know that the little grand-niece they so generously gifted as a child is now a wonderful woman (she was, after all, reared by an entire village…. nay, a whole island) living in New York biting hungrily and sucking delightedly, every drop of juice from the Big Apple.


So therefore, as letters are individual and Facebook is limited (imagine, 149 characters!…. one cannot live in 149 characters alone) I thought I’d write a blog.   That’s the way to keep in touch.  Martin (husband of Síle who only kisses altos) writes a blog which keeps us all connected and amused; friends, family, clients, fans, lurkers, the curious, the envious, the odd-ball and the spammer. But I don’t have clients – or fans – and am wary of the curious, the envious, the odd-ball and the spammer, so therefore must employ a different modus operandi……


Ah for heaven’s sake….I can’t write to you if I don’t have a life from which to tell you the news and I can’t have a life if I spend all my time writing.


I’m grand.  We’re all grand.  The garden is awakening, there is still snow at higher altitudes.  Consider yourselves kissed xxx

Isabel Healy

Isabel Healy

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