My Freshman Year

Being a freshman in high school is nothing I try hard to remember. I’m sure I was chubby and pimples were scattered like seeds. I had bad crushes on Todd Newman and Paul LaValle, didn’t make the cheerleading team, and seriously struggled in mathematics and accounting.

If we were going to France, so was Sable. No questions about it.

Being a freshman at Villanova University is nothing I try hard to remember, either. I lived off campus my first semester, and the level of preparedness I had to have to negotiate taking the train to and from campus, at all hours of the day and night, in all kinds of weather, can only be under the header – How to avoid having fun. That eased up. I loved moving on campus into a junior’s room, and she and all of her nursing friends took me under their wings. Great girls! I also loved the English department, Paul Nozell, and of course, VU Basketball.

Poor handsome Paul got hauled off by the FBI for making fantastic fake IDs at Villanova, which gave many of us access into the infamous Kelly’s Bar on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, my birth place. He went to jail. Do I know how to pick the bad boys?

Being a freshman in France has been serendipitous.

When in Paris, who doesn’t love a little T and A.

Why we are here is covered in ‘About Me’ and why we chose to renew our visa for another year is simple:


Kidding. But kind of not….

France is a conundrum for us. The pitiful paperwork we heard about is really justified. And for arduous administrative tasks you hire a ‘Claire.’  We know, others have most decidedly not had our luck, but we prepare by assuming the worst, and keep coming out with the best.

Only one hurdle to go…the french driver’s license. I will keep you posted on that, as this task is the most arduous, and we schemed and finagled before we left America. Homework is a key element. Ever the freshman student, I will see how my study habits play out, to secure this last, necessary document.

On Sundays we usually dine in the village at a small place that has a charter bus contract to feed dejuener (lunch) to 20 or so American tourists. Invariably Howard’s Brooklyn accent attracts attention and they want to know: HOW did you do this? Easy. Decide and leap…the net will appear. And the rude french you hear about, will help you up, if the net didn’t quite buoy you. Because the rude are few.

Back to the conundrum. We live rurally. Yet we have everything. We don’t need a lot, but we have so much. The French seem complicated although simplicity is their ethos.

Here are some pros:

The countryside is immaculate. Litter does not exist. No one rushes. Help is always an ‘excuzez-moi’ away. The smallest but earnest effort to converse in French, is appreciated. A lovely Bordeaux can be drank at 3$ a bottle. Cheese is glorious. Fruits and vegetables are pennies on the dollar. Flowers are everywhere.

During a full moon, this donkey brays several times throughout the night. It is free range in my hamlet, and was needing some affection, which Petros bestowed.

The medical system has surpassed our expectations in every way. We pay a flat 140.00 a month for a top up policy that covers both of us, and I pay 25.00 for a MD visit. Of that 25, 17.00 is reimbursed directly into my account from the national system within 48 hours. Howard pays zero to see an MD and zero for medicine, as he has diabetes and heart disease. Both long term illnesses that are completely covered. I pay zero for my 5 monthly RXs except for a special Rosacea cream. For that I pay 40.00 for a 6 month supply. In America, I paid 450$ (yes I wrote that correctly) for the same tube, by the same manufacturer. Our MDs spend upwards of 45 minutes with us, and Howard’s Cardiologist gave him the most complete physical he has ever had.

My teeth cleaning and full set of x-rays cost 60.00 Within 48 hours 48.00 was reimbursed into my bank account. You do the math.

While lying back in the dentist’s chair, getting my teeth cleaned, this was my view of the ceiling.

We make new friends constantly. There is always someone to visit, or someone who is stopping by for une verre de vin (glass of wine). When people come by they bring flowers, homemade jam, produce from their gardens, their dogs, which are a staple in this country. Yes, even in restaurants.

A tiny sampling of what is to be purchased at ‘the Producer’s Market’ held every other Thursday in the summer.

Howard has learned to make his own, homemade cocktail sauce.

A few of the hundreds who come in from the countrysides for the Producer’s Market, to buy their dinners, have it cooked for free, drink, socialize, and dance to live music. Often until 1 AM…

Thousands (literally) of TV channels, cost us 8$ a month. We have some ‘little black box’ that we can unplug and take anywhere in the world. I can’t adequately explain these things…

Two gorgeous large cities, with excellent shopping and culture are within 35 minutes. Two airports are both under an hour. Flights to April, in Londres (London), are anywhere from 10$ to 75$. Le Dorat, 3 km away, has a train station, and trains are spotless. Darling villages and hamlets are a constant. Trucks on the highway gleam. I swear it must be a rule to only drive a sparkling 18 wheeler.

There is SO MUCH space. And trees and streams and rivers and hills and wildlife.

This a one of a double set of doors in Saint Savin. I just adore the shell, which takes me back to the Hamptons.

The architecture, mason work, wrought iron work, and all other styles of builds, are everywhere and wonderful. Doors are my particular favorite.

We live in a renovated 3 bedroom, 3 full bath, lovely kitchen, living room, laundry room, center hallway, large coat closet, 1 car garage with workroom, and a 750 meter garden. My property taxes are 200$ a year.

Nobody merits you on your home, your car, your wardrobe, your tax bracket. We have met the most interesting people who live in all manner of ‘renovation’ on their homes. Brave, hearty, fortified people who know how to do ‘THINGS’ that we can’t comprehend. They get it. We were white collar Americans who hired and still hire, people to do everything. Capitalism at its best, here in France.

The oldest frescoes in Europe, inside the Abbey of Saint Savin. 45 minutes from my front door.

Most ‘workman’ types that we need help from, ask for 20 euros an hour, or a 150 euro day rate. Thank you sweet Jesus. And they are cheerful and lovely people who can’t do enough, offering free advice on this tree pruning or that oil burner overhaul (yes, I am about to have CENTRAL HEATING).

The American dollar has gained strength. Last week, when we transferred money from our US bank account, we made 120$.

Here are some cons:

Sheep shit and cow dung stink. Horse manure is totally tolerable. On deep countryside drives one can be overcome, for a few kilometers.

The River Gartempte, running through the ancient city of Montmorillon. Known for writers and book makers.

Occasionally, a loose cow walks by the house. Even Sable knows not to get involved.

The bull, front and right, has junk in the trunk and a nose ring.

I don’t love French cooking. There, I admitted it.

Many restaurants are owned by British expats, and quite frankly, I am a better cook. But we have secured 3 or 4 spots that we always have a GOOD meal, plenty of wine, and an inexpensive addition (check).

There are few public indoor pools in my area. My waistline and thighs really miss doing 1000 meters. And so VERY long walks are needed to counterbalance my rapidly improving cooking skills.

The view of Le Dorat, my main village, while eating amazing pizza at Rock 87.

Brown sugar doesn’t exist.

Chicken is far more expensive that in the USA. With good reason. The market is not glutted by Purdue. All farmers bring to market a set amount of fowl, and price it competitively. Every purveyor has a fair chance.

French Amazon just isn’t as diverse.

I live in a commune of a tiny village, Oradour Saint Genest. If there is a church, it is indeed, a village. This is my church.

As the summer season wanes, hamlets and villages quiet down, significantly.

There is an energy crisis in Europe. This sad and damning Russian attack on Ukraine.

We dearly miss our children and grandchildren. I dearly miss my sisters. Facetime, What’s App, and Messenger ease this considerably.

Every time I think I have really learned a French language lesson, my teacher layers a new rule on to it. Confusing me tenfold…

Yesterday was our one year anniversary, here in France. We celebrated by taking Sable up to Bourg Archambault and walking around the large lake there. The weather was lovely. We grilled some Toulouse sausages, made a big salad with gorgeous lettuces and feta cheese, and had a little red wine.

Howard enjoying une biere, at our local bar, La Poste.

I would not change a thing. The pandemic left us with a lost business that will need sorting, and the political landscape of the USA still frightens me. I was experiencing that slippery slope of depression. Here in the rural hills we are buffered with kindness and hospitality, equality and goodwill despite skin color, sexual preference, and religious beliefs.

You might think I am playing ostrich and sticking my head in the sand, but I am not. I am just living a new way of life from how I did, in America.

Crazy Cosmos, this year, outside of our garage.

For me it is simpler and softer, slower and sweeter. Not without challenges, but somehow they are just more manageable.

And a hunk of a fresh baguette, warm, smothered with sea salt butter from Brittany, and honey from the Charente, is a wonderful tradition I partake of everyday here in France, and a fabulous reason to renew a visa. How lucky am I?


10 thoughts on “My Freshman Year

  1. Avatar Lynn stewart says:

    I am sooo happy for you and Howard (and Sable) that things have worked out so well Laur!! I miss you terribly but knowing you are happy eases that loss. I can’t wait to hear all abt your Christmas trip to see April and Petros and meeting the family! I love you and cannot wait to visit some day…hopefully sooner rather than later. Just not possible for me right now. 😪 Yes, talking, facetiming and txting ….thank you!!

  2. Avatar Jaime says:

    You could have just wrote about the bread and butter and I would have been jealous enough!

  3. Avatar Jennifer Ainsworth says:

    Laura Lee,

    Bravo to you and Howard! Congratulations on your first full year in France. You are living one of my bucket list dreams. Your thoughts are beautifully written and I had to chuckle at the beginning when you stated your two Freshman years crushes. Lol
    Please continue to share your journey’s with us! xo Jen

  4. Avatar Renee O says:

    It does sound enchanting but as you said you prepared ahead of time. So happy things have worked out so well for all 3 of you👏

  5. Avatar Jan Hart says:

    Lovely piece! Makes me very excited to visit. It looks like mid-May will be the time.

  6. Avatar Karen says:

    Laura Lee, What a lovely piece of writing! I was smiling as I read it – everything is true, true, true. I love France, and I love you and Howard.

  7. Avatar Dana Dolan says:

    Written beautifully. I savored every word, each like a sip of fine wine.
    My experiences are quite different unfortunately. I even considered going back to America.
    Your license is good only for one year. After that you can’t drive until you get a French license. If you’ve got a way around that let me know.
    Dana xx

    1. I do. But as stated, we did that homework long before we left America. My current US DL is from a state with reciprocity with France. It took work….

  8. Avatar Beth says:

    OUTSTANDING! I won’t go so far as to say I’m jealous b/c rural Wi and rural MT offer much also. I WILL come visit for a little longer than you may like! Can a sister do that?!

  9. Avatar matko says:

    Dear Laura Lee, thank you for sharing. What a year you had. Brava

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