Bonjour. Salut. Coucou. It is too late to say Bonne Année. But the thought is what counts.
I have been so busy with multiple guest appearances on cooking shows, gardening programs, and working on my new book — The True Meaning of These Two Words: Rural France. My editor is hounding me for chapters 1 – 5, and because I have been advanced a sum large enough to install central heating, purchase the hectare behind me with the intention of adopting 2 miniature donkeys and a horse, and to install a claw foot tub in the master bathroom, I have not thought one moment about this blog.
There must always be a dream…The real story is that I have been sulking and dieting. A more pitiful pair of words have I never written.
November was tough. One midnight I received an email from a familiar address. The lovely couple we bought our house from, here in the Haute Vienne. Grace wrote to share that David had unexpectedly passed away the day prior from a massive heart attack. Without a will. We have watched a very painful process, from grief to disbelief, as succession is everything, here in France.
The mother board on the pellet burner went. Nothing happens quickly in France, except, apparently, succession rights, so the salon was COLD for a few weeks.
The laundry machine fittings sprung a huge leak. Talk about tedious.
The car broke down. The transmission went. A recall, which was French news to us. The dealership had our car for a month. So friends rescued us in Limoges, friends took us grocery shopping, friends sent a taxi to bring us to lunch as a thank you for driving them to the doctor when THEIR car broke down. Friends drove us to pick up a rental car (6 euros a day, God love France), friends picked us up from the airport. None of these excursions were a hop and a skip. Remember me? I live among farms and fields and streams and forests.
In December the Christmas tree fell over at 2 AM, taking with it about 30 ornaments, decades old. Also in December, my dear American friend Cherylynn became very, very ill. A super bug invaded her body, from head to toe. Our magnificent Dr. Knaff (no longer taking new patients) took one look at her and ordered an ambulance. She was touch and go for over 11 days in the hospital. Her only son, in Texas, was issued a Passport within 15 hours and in Poitiers the next day. We were so happy to host him and André, Cherylynn’s French husband and also our dear friend, for New Year’s Eve and, on anther night for Italian food. Often, we only hear about people’s children, so we love when they meet ours, or we meet theirs.
Cherylynn is my “let’s go to lunch” partner in crime. She is a veritable Martha Stewart, teller of hilarious tales, and so very generous. If you need some THING, any THING at all, it is sure to be somewhere in her house or garage. Or she will order it and the next time you see her she will give it to you. A great day was the day we looked at the house for sale next door to her. Seeing activity, she came out and we met over the fence. Exchanged emails, and we were off and running…
She came home from the hospital in the new year. Delicate. Which is so the opposite of who and what she is. Time is what she needs, and our continued prayers and visits.
Christmas was a magical whirlwind in London. It was high time, after 5 years of an all over the world relationship, to meet Petros’s mother. Who, I am happy to report, is smaller than me. She is also a fabulous cook as is his auntie and cousin, and we enjoyed a Christmas luncheon in their lovely home, on Cornwallis Road. And met the key family members who have all contributed to raising Petros, Greek family style. We love Petros.
While in London we feasted at home, in pubs, in chinatown, and at my highest recommendation, Sushi Samba. Bring a lot of money. We walked, shopped, examined the Crown Jewels…we approve.
But, and not that there hadn’t been a considerable buildup, I arrived home in France, chubby (joufflue). I also arrived home to learn that my other American friend, Karen, was closing up her house and returning to the USA for an indefinite period of time. To selflessly take care of her aging mother who has dementia. We became friends, online, while we both still lived in America, planning our moves to France. She is from Spokane, me from Charlotte. What were the odds that we wound up a mile and a half from each other, in Le Dorat. I don’t know what the future holds for Karen, but I miss her, here, in her wonderful French house and garden.
April and Petros departed in early January, to South America for 6 months. I am not sulking, sulking, as I wish them every adventure they choose to embark on. But, it has been delightful to see April 3 times and Petros twice, since we bought this house. To date they have been to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and I know they are now in Patagonia. And somewhere near a gigantic iceberg.
So, you may be asking, what does any of this have to do with endeavoring to live in rural France? Well, because it just does. The key being that I live here. I am not on vacation. We moved our entire lives to a foreign country by choice. I need to create a life where I am not just, existing. And merde happens. We have modern conveniences in a modern country that moves at a learned pace. And that returns maintenance calls and emergency breakdown calls when it feels like it.
France did not design itself to make me comfortable. It designed itself to make its own citizens comfortable. I have felt helpless at times. Like at the customer service counter in the Citroën dealership, at 5 PM on a Friday, with them madly gesticulating at us. So we networked, and found a British mechanic 10 minutes from our front door. He is in Luchapt, they said, next hamlet over. So I put it into Waze and off we went. To the middle of nowhere (because that is what it can feel like between hamlets) and found a French fellow pottering in his yard. “où est le mechanic?” I asked. He pointed to a barn across the street. Score. To exist, with a modicum of contentment, you really do need a village — of people to network with, and for. People with whom you can share your confusion and your knowledge. People who you can comfort and pray for, and they you.
I suppose that I mean there is some kind of charm to feeling powerless at times. Thus far it has been petty grievances for us, with a series of interesting guess works and yes that word, networks. I might have a new friend to add to my roster. Our realtor has been showing her properties in our area, and had us reach out to her. She is in the house hunt process and is hoping to be here in July. Another American! I hope so. And I hope I can help her with all that I have learned. What worked and what fizzled. I must pay my successes forward, as they all came to me from someone else’s bag of tricks.
And should I hark back to that jiggly word joufflue? Howard thinks I am a super model. Go figure that I can’t translate how to pay my water bill online, but I can certainly download an APP for Intermittent Fasting. And even here, deep among the cows and sheep, my diet can be regulated at all times of the day to let me know if I am burning fat, dehydrated, allowed to eat. Not supposed to be eating…..sacré bleu.
In my network of fabulous friends is Damien. From Georgia. A computer genius with an awesome singing voice, he is learning 3 languages on Duolingo, and has a photographic memory. He will help me. It is fun to discover what each of us brings to the table, when building bridges to friendships. I shocked him the other day, to ask, if something happened to both me and Howard, if he and his dear husband Michael would take Sable. I can’t assume that April and Petros would, and these things need to be dealt with.
In closing I must say, it is cold here in France. And grey, which for me is the bigger problem. Incessantly so, lately. This is not my ideal, so I must make my own sunshine. We had babbled about going to Spain for 8 weeks, but I couldn’t fathom closing up the house within the first 6 months of ownership. Several projects to complete that eat up extra monies…a second sink added to the master bathroom, a roof built over the storage room at the back of the garage, lighting to be added to said room so I can see a potential snake, endless garden cuttings collected and taken to the decheterie (landfill), two vintage mirrors purchased and painted by my friend Jace, to complement the double sinks, Christmas bills to pay…so Spain in 2024. We had, indeed, committed our first year of home ownership to doing just such things.
And to building our network of tradesmen, administrative help, and friends. We have excelled.