For someone known to be a hard charging workaholic and road warrior, fanatically dependent on 24/7 blackberry service and, just as significant, living in the political heartbeat of the United States, it is hard to reconcile the image with the person
now situated in a rural village in the south of France, miles from any major city such as Barcelona and Paris, and living in a 500 square foot home with barely a counter for a kitchen. “What exactly will you do there” is just one of many
questions posed by some friends who expressed mild shock and disbelief at our decision. Others who expressed support, even envy, probably have visions of languid days eating gourmet food and drinking fabulous wines under the Mediterranean sun.
There are languid days, indeed. But our days do not revolve around Michelin star menus and drinking copious amounts of Coteaux de Languedoc…. although the thought is quite tempting. There is a slowing down
of mind and body which leads to a clear focus on the here and now. Not past, not future but this instant. And in doing so, savoring the moment as it comes – cocooning with chocolates and a movie on a windy and rainy day, strolling through
the village streets in the late afternoon sun for a bit of exercise, trying out a new restaurant for its cuisine or patronizing our favorite Vietnamese buffet, and doing the rounds of supermarkets and village markets for the weekly supply. And there
is the more ordinary but necessary tasks of cleaning the house, doing laundry and taking care of the family jewels – first and second daughters.
Typically, on a Monday, I would drive to Narbonne for my weekly banking needs and for
a cup of coffee in a café facing the Via Domitia. I watch people coming and going, for work or for shopping, or simply wandering about taking in the sights and the weather. I buy a bag of choquettes for the girls’ snack at a
patisserie and return to the parking lot. There is, usually, some mendicant hanging out in the parking ticket booth but never, ever aggressive. One time, in my rush, I inserted coins for payment and forgot the parking ticket. He ran after
me to warn me that I needed the ticket to get out of the parking lot. I arrive home in time for a light lunch and perhaps a nap or some concentrated reading. Then the girls come home and we talk about school as well as some trivia that made
their day. I prepare dinner and they do the clean up. And yes, I do enjoy a couple of glasses of my domaine du vin finds.
Tuesday is almost always cleaning day. That’s because a village neighbor, an elected town
official no less, comes to the house in the afternoon to help me with the French language. Mornings are spent dusting, vacuuming, and mopping floors to make the small dwelling presentable and welcoming. I also prepare for this conversation session
so Madame need not work so hard to make me speak French properly. And it is a stimulating session. I love the challenge of making new and different sounds no matter the strain on my tongue and my jaws. A German language teacher once told
me that if the accent sounds right, I will be forgiven for murdering the conjugation. I live by that mantra these days.
In our early weeks here, I've been able to venture into Olonzac for their Tuesday market. It is a
fairly large market even in winter and the offerings are varied and interesting. There was even a vendor selling roasted pig (the carcass of the animal was laid out in this metal container) which was inexpensive and very tasty. Much as I liked
wandering around, I suspended the weekly trip after the day I nicked someone’s sideview mirror when I was sandwiched between an incoming large truck on the left and the protruding car (inappropriately parked past the white line designating the
parking area) on my right. The back of my right sideview mirror flew off and I had to park my car to search for it. Fortunately a resident German couple picked it up and returned it when I explained the situation. I left a note (in French)
on the windshield of the other car with my phone number. But no calls have been forthcoming. Still, the incident shook me enough that I decided to lay low. When I told the story to the girls that afternoon, first daughter went to the car
and patched the right rearview mirror with electric blue duct tape to prevent it from getting loose. “Now it looks like a real French car, mom” she said. Bruised and scratched. Thank goodness for Peugeot’s insurance
On Wednesdays, second daughter is off school so we drive around doing errands, shopping at the Capestang village market, or exploring other villages in Herault. Second daughter enjoys a half day from school
so we usually eat a late lunch. Some afternoons we continue our errands, take naps (first daughter is wanting and enjoying this – which she refused to do in the U.S.), and stroll or walk briskly around the village. We spend a leisurely afternoon
watching TV, doing homework, and preparing dinner. It is a good mid-week break for the girls and I enjoy their company.
Sometimes, I do major laundry such as linens and bath towels on Thursdays in the lavarie at Capestang.
I go especially for the large dryers ideal for sheets and bathmats. I bring my Kindle and read through the 30 minutes wash cycle. Once I load the clean laundry in the dryer, I take my Kindle along to the café in the town square and have
my morning café crème while continuing to read. I stay for probably close to an hour, even with my coffee cup laying empty, undisturbed by the proprietor or other patrons nursing their coffee or beers and reading their daily Midi Libre.
Starbucks it isn’t. Coffee here is not as good as in Spain or Italy or even Starbucks, but the nesting atmosphere is better. Collegial, safe, tranquil, it is a wonderful place to park oneself with a good read.
mornings are generally free. I simply go with the flow but mindful of picking up first daughter after lunch. At first, I would arrive at the Collège at 1:30 or 1:45 pm and wait. But she insisted she was not ready to come out until right
before 2 pm when the gate closes. Something to do with hanging out and chilling with newly found friends. So one time, after working remotely with Microsoft to rid my computer of bugs, I arrived at precisely 2 pm. The gate was closed so I
went through the office to get her. She was upset since the gate for that day was closed at 1:30 pm and she had to sit with the counselor until I arrived. I am still not sure if her distress originated from her embarrassment of being with the counselor
all that time or her anxiety that she may have to stay in study hall until the buses arrive at 4 pm. So now, I get there by 1:55 pm.
On weekends, we clean the house, do clothes laundry, and tidy up. We attend mass.
We watch TV or TV movies. Sometime we drive to Bezier for lunch and an english movie (VO= version originale – meaning its original language), go window shopping, decide on a luncheon place or simply drive somewhere to experience a different
ambiance, view a different sight, and try a different menu at another café/restaurant. More often than not, we have to return to the supermarket, or go to the St Chinian or Capestang Sunday markets, so that the girls can pick up their favorites
and make recommendations for the following week’s dinners.
Throughout the week and weekends, we Skype with husband/dad and we sometimes visit with local friends and acquaintances. First daughter is now enjoying afternoons to
wander with her friends in the village. Second daughter practices with her borrowed bike. And I have been, and will likely continue, walking in the fields outside the village. One of my local friends is so familiar with the pathways, both
hidden and exposed, that walking with her is pure, heavenly exercise that can take up nearly two hours. There is a parcours de santé in the hills above our village that I have used with friends and with husband. The walking pathways
expose wild rosemary and thyme and offer spectacular views of vines settling on the plains as well as those hugging the hillside. But despite the hushed, secluded surroundings, the paths feels safe.
Woven into this flexible rhythm
constrained only by school calendars are the many task and activities that invariably crop up. Visits to the doctors these past two months were frequent and necessary. Our local doctor has seen us so many times that we now have a standing invitation
to use her pool during the summer months. “Just walk in,” she said. There are forms to continually fill out for school or other administrative matters, bills to pay by French checks, online banking to manage, appointments with hairdresser
or Institut de Beauté (when in France….), letters and postcards to mail, and storylines to draft and redraft. These do not produce anxiety or stress because time is not of the essence here. And if this pace, this
tempo, is indicative of future retirement, we are likely to live to a ripe old age.
There are still places yet to see (Nimes, Lyon, Collioure, Perpignan, Camargue) and to revisit (Montpellier, Toulouse, Meze, Minerve, Lourdes), and
things to do (soaking in the red wine Jacuzzi in Gruissan, driving through the African Safari Park in Sigean, learning to ride horses in Creissan) that will likely occupy us especially now that temperatures have risen, the sun constantly shines, and homeowners
return to their maison secondaire. I sometimes check the calendar to decide when I can schedule these opportunities. But I find that I would shelve these ideas and plans within reach until the longing shows up on our immediate radar.
But there are instances when I do miss the U.S. Husband and the four gorgeous Himalayans pets reside there fulltime. Family and family friends are within easy reach. Everywhere is so familiar that the drive to malls, supermarket,
or siblings’ home is automatic. I can make luncheon plans with former business colleagues or after work drinks to catch up on office gossips and the job market. There is always someone to take care of cleaning the house, doing laundry,
cooking dinner, and gardening. There is also Chinese food home delivery. Weekends are generally spent entertaining; pairing wines from the Eurocave with a carefully planned menu. And there are no language barriers to overcome. But
it is our first and primary residence so we know we can return anytime. It is our anchor. This fact comforts me and diminishes my homesickness. So I focus on the moment, the here and now, and the gifts that it brings.