Sophie is 22, her grandmother – who she has never met, she left her French husband and moved to Australia in the 1950s – is English. “How did you manage in these places,” she says, “they are dead, terrible.”
Briare, Nevers and Moulins have had their family-centred moments for me, but the reality is “depression, economic decline, kids leaving to find work in the cities,” she says. In Moulins for a Mother’s Day reunion, she is keen to get away; a snap strike par grave, greve has flattened the rail system. The two hours to Lyon becomes an eight hour odyssey of coaches, towns smaller than Moulins, and Lyon reached (in electrical storm, of course, “Ha, welcome to France, snow on the Alps, lightning everywhere.”
But these towns, what is it about them? “A boy I knew at high school, he lives there now. I saw him this weekend, he has a baby on the way. Says he is pleased, he wanted it. But he and his wife can’t afford a house, will live on with his parents. Kids, I don’t understand why people have kids. Everyone tells me at 30 I will change my mind, but at least 30 you have experienced things, seen different ways. In these towns it is the only option.”
Sophie chose Lyon rather than Paris for her adult education because it is a lively city without the snobberies of Paris; she admits she has few friends in her school, “because they all want to be lawyers and buy Mercedes cars and ‘settle down’ as fast as they can. They buy the car, the house, the wife, the clothes. Then they realize that actually they have nothing. They are too young – and old at the same time.”
Travel (and jazz) is Sophie’s thing: tomorrow wind-surfing in the South, next week Morocco for a month. She spent a year at Cambridge, and has seen Las Vegas, LA, Africa – much of Europe. “Travel is just an addiction, I can’t feel settled,” she says.
Her father is a busy successful rural doctor in the south, her mother “has all the clothes she wants, holidays – she just went on a group hiking trip to Martinique – but she isn’t happy. I don’t want to marry for money, for the life, I just want to be.”
Worried by the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, though not convinced by Royale either, she says her generation thinks politics is just another branch of business. She includes journalism in this. “I’d thought that’s what I wanted to be, but now I see my idea – that it is about telling the truth – is just wrong. They want the power too. And they’ll say whatever it takes to get that power.”
She was born in a community of 200. As a teenager: “We did nothing. There was nothing to do but drink, meet boys, smoke some weed. I had to get away. When I go back to the house my parents live in now I feel displaced, uncomfortable. I think my father is very clever, very simple, but for him work is just everything. It is hard for my mother, what can she do?”
Perhaps this is a new Renaissance, technology empowering us, huge changes in the way we choose to live for her generation – in the future. “Yes, I think so too, but not so creative, it’s not about great art but about the body, how you look, it is a Renaissance but turned in on ourselves as works of art.”
Sophie plays jazz piano; her I-Pod is full of Django Rheinhart, Miles Davis, Chet Baker – “the old stuff is so great.” The last book was about “mothers, in Africa”, and she says she’d like to travel more in Africa soon. “Lyon is great, beautiful, but I have to leave even it, often.”
Wind surfing in the morning then.