I left Marseilles on October 17th, took the high-speed train to Paris, then a bus to the Montparnasse Train Station, and boarded the train for Flers, Normandy. From 7:30am until 3:30pm on that day, the following happened: I met a Venezuelan lady who showed me the way to the proper bus stop in Paris; I left my computer bag containing my passport, all ID, credit cards and some cash on the bus; I sat at the bus stop waiting for bus to come around again, and explained my plight in FRENCH(!!) to a Muslim woman who took me to the ONLY BUS KIOSK that was open(strike was on) and she pounded on the door until someone answered and there was my bag was with everything in tact(angels were watching over me on THAT one); the bus driver saw me and stopped the bus to make sure I got my bag; I got my roller bag stuck in the turnstile at the train station bathroom(one has to pay to use the restroom there) and held up many angry women for 5 minutes while the restroom employee had to disassemble the turnstile to get the handle thing off (don’t even ask how that happened because I have NO friggin’ clue); I boarded the train, and entered the wrong car but same seat number but nobody checked tickets since everyone was on strike and I hoped to hell there was at least a driver on the train; and I arrived in Flers, Normandy scared to even move for fear what might happen next.
A smile lit my face when I spotted the small woman with a yellow rain jacket and her little collie on a leash standing on the train platform waiting for me. Jenny, my workawayer.com host and her dog, Tasha, greeted me and we set off to her home in a little hamlet outside of Flers. We passed stone houses built from the stones cleared from the fields, little villages, small country roads, cattle and sheep — all very picture postcard-sque on our 30 minute drive to her house.
Jenny had a knee replacement a few months ago and had difficulty doing all the daily chores involved with home maintenance and attached GITE (pronounced G(soft g) -EETE). (A gite is a holiday rental unit.) Workawayer.com provides an avenue for people traveling to connect with in-country locals and work for them in exchange for room and board. We connected via this website and there I was in a house with 3 Shetland ponies, 8 cats, 1 dog, English garden, and an amazing little English woman!
She lived in Bosnia during the war in the ’90’s working to provide educational programs to children unable to get to school because of sniper fire. Additionally, she CEO’d for the organization that instituted the DNA matching program for mass grave victims and their families, worked at the foreign correspondent desk for a newspaper in England, taught at university in Bosnia, and now has retired in France. Her house is a veritable library touching on all aspects of history regarding people, politics and countries throughout the world.
During the last 2 weeks, I picked acorns off the ground so the three Shetland ponies wouldn’t colic, picked up “pony poo” from the pastures, stocked the fireplace with wood, pulled grass from the gravel to keep things neat & tidy, cleaned the house, washed dishes,
learned to deal with cats(no choice on that since there are eight), moved hay from trailer to hay barn, and helped in whatever seemed necessary at the time.
Tasha and I went for daily walks in the forests on trails that were shared with equestrians, bikers, hikers and the occasional hunter. I had to walk every day because the food that came out of this little kitchen with two feet of counter space was AMAZING.
Whom ever said English food was bland did not visit this house.
Jenny’s neighbor stopped by one day, and her pig, Dexter, started to follow her as she left their dairy farm. We are talking a pet pig(!). She was able to get the pig to turn around and follow her back to the pen by slapping her thigh to get the pig’s attention and continued walk to the pen w/pig following, close the gate, and give the appropriate reward of food to an animal that must weigh at least 500 pounds.
Some of Jenny’s friends I met had renovated old stone barns and houses, spoke various levels of French, had French residency cards to qualify for French health care and gite rentals to bring in extra income, and all had their own stories. I went to a French dog school with Tasha, visited local markets with fan-tab-u-lous homemade sausage and cheese that was over the friggin’ top(!!), and went to an “agricultural store” that sold everything from espresso machines and specialty wine to tractor discs and hay. I feel like I lived on a reality TV show comprised of three components: “All Creatures Great and Small” / “Days of Our Lives” / and a modern version of ex-pat Masterpiece Theatre!!
To sum up my experience w/living w/the Brits, I can only do it by the following imagined conversation:
Henry: Hm-m, seems to be a bit of a blaze there. Robert: Yes, there does, doesn’t there. Wonder what’s that about?
Henry: Not sure, hm-m, but it does seem to be growing, don’t you think? Robert: Yes, quite. Seems a shame, though, doesn’t it, to see those lovely vines, just turning the most brilliant shade of red, lose their color like that. Do you suppose we should call the fire department?
(meanwhile fire has engulfed the entire town…..)
Henry: Well yes, I suppose so, but do you have your phone? Not sure where my mo-bile is. (“Probably damn burning, Henry.” … says Lisa…”Will you PLEASE get on with it!) Robert: I have mine. “Hmm yes, there seems to be a bit of a problem here at Cornish Lane. The houses are burning. No, not sure. Quite a mess really, terribly difficult to breathe. Yes I suppose something should be done. Hm-m-m, oh that would be brilliant. Hm-m. Well right then, cheerio, b-ye.”
Omaha Beach was hugely emotional for me when coming face to face to thousands of white crosses commemorating American soldiers. The American Visitor Center is very well done, but sadly enough, the visitor is greeted at the entrance by the standard security apparatus to thwart the ever-present anti-American feelings exprssed by some people. The French DDAY Center, with no security gates, gave thanks to all the other countries involved with the DDay invasion, England, Canada, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, etc. and opened my eyes to the amazing feat of DDAY.
I have come away with these thoughts…
…live my life to the fullest
…….wherever my friends & family are – that is home
………….be open to all, leave my own culture at the doorstep
…………………..and don’t own a pet pig, he’ll never leave you.
On that note, I am off to Paris for a night, then on to Narbonne for a week in the Languedoc region before I occupy a gite and spend 3 months living in Provence.