Au revoir, France…..
I saw leaves turn yellow and carpet the orchards’ ground, trees pruned and left to wait out the cold winter months, and greenhouses filled with lettuce slowly emptying to provide greens for the village markets this winter. My village status changed from tourist to inhabitant when the grocery store clerk asked me when I was going to get my discount card -“vous économiserez de l’argent, madame” (save money, madame). When the bus drivers greeted me with “St. Remy, madame?” or “Avignon, madame?”, a comfort level settled over me like that first cup of morning coffee. The dog stopped barking at me every morning, the horses followed me in hopes of a treat as I walked thru the pasture, I navigated the streets with confidence, saw progress in winterizing the orchards’ trees, and the days began to flow one into another with living life’s routine. Eventually, the museums, historical sites and other tourist attractions became a non-entity in life, day-to-day living seeped in, and before I knew it, Rognonas was my home. I have lived here for three months now, and it has given me a window into life in France.
I rode the bus, recently, to the market in St. Remy. Again, I marveled at the passengers and bus driver’s patience when we stopped for 3-5 minutes in the middle of the road behind a taxi driver asking directions from a passing pedestrian. Amidst hand gesticulations from taxi driver and pedestrian looking at the village map, the bus driver sorted out her change while we all waited for the taxi to move along. The minutes inched by and, eventually, the taxi continued on down the street.. This 5 minute photo summed up my experience with village life in Provence. Live your days with good food & wine, enjoy friends, remembert the stores close from 12 – 2 or so for lunch, purchase fresh vegetables, cheese and meat at village markets, fill your wine container from the local distributor once a week, ride bicycles at a leisurely pace through town, have patience with people, and listen to the church bells. ….I learned about “the life” that happens around the grocery store check-out line. Some stores have check out lines for elderly people and if you are in that line, “seniors” can go in front of you at any time. Or, there is the person who searches for the checkbook, then the pen, positions the check just-so, writes a check, asks 6 different times the correct amount, chats about the grandkids, forgets something so the check is COMPLETELY re-written – while everyone in line looks out the window with acceptance written on their faces. There isn’t a lot a person can do, so, accept the delay, and save the energy for something that really warrants it.
…. Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. Finding a parking place, people rushing, cars honking – city life with the typical pressures were felt – but there still was that underlying sense of “let’s stop for un café“.
….Canadian and British ex-pats who opened holiday rentals, B&B’s, small shops; or, they moved here to retire or have a second home. Why? The pace is slower, beautiful country and new experiences to enjoy. I will never forget when I said “goodbye” to the owners of this gite as they were leaving for a 2 week vacation in December. I asked “Where will you be tonite?” “Oh, it will take us around 4 hours to get to Switzerland!” That statement gave living in Europe a new perspective! I would still be driving in New Mexico after 4 hours.
I arrived in France on September 25, 2010 in Marseilles with some apprehension because a possible language barrier. Most people have been incredibly patient with my questions, asked what state and city I am from, helpful with directions, chatted with me occasionally at cafés, practiced their English, appreciated my attempt at French – especially in the smaller villages where life is slow. World affair discussions happened and we left the table with differing opinions but a smile on the face. Job shortages, bureaucracy, taxes, estate tax, visa, citizenship, social, and immigration problems -same thing we speak about in the states.
The off-season prices have made living in Provence for 3 months an affordable experience. The high season runs from April 1 thru mid October. I looked up the tourist statistics for Provence and for 2009:
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region has become a more and more accessible destination, thanks to :
– an important traffic network owning 2 500 kms of motorway (A7, A8, A54)– Mediterranean TGV (high-speed train) accounts more than 14 million of tourists at the departures and arrivals of the stations’ region
Important airports :
– Nice Côte d’Azur owns the 2nd french airport with more than 10.3 millions of passengers,
– Marseille welcomes around 6.8 millions of passengers,
– Toulon/hyères : around 641 000 passengers, and
– Avignon : 82 000 passengers
– Marseille welcomes more than 2 millions of passengers
– Nice : 1.3 million, and
– Toulon : more than 1 million passengers
34 million visitors – I have visions of Provence during the high season replicating an ant farm w/1000’s trudging thru the tourist sites carrying Rick Steve’s Guide to Provence and hearing in the background “Did you bring the water, Harry?” “How come they don’t sell hamburgers?” “Rooms are too small.” I am spoiled with living here with so few tourists. But, I missed all the things that spring and summer bring to Provence. A purple haze of lavender fields trailing off into a blue horizon, riding in the Camargue area on these white horses and bathing in sunshine, sitting on a tourist guide boat floating down the Rhône enjoying the scenery, cooking classes/wine tours etc, etc.,
sitting at an outdoor café at 10:00am drinking a coffee with pain du chocolat and wearing a sleeveless top – which I did not get to do – this time! So, as with everything, there are the upsides and downsides.
Huge thanks to the gite owners, Kerrin and Keryn Webster(K1 & K2) of Mas Sainte Antoine(see sidebar for website)for their unbelievable hospitality and welcoming me into their world for the last three months.
Seems unbelievable to me that I left Taos, New Mexico 7 months ago. Time has flown by and every moment has been precious. On vacation, sometimes we think the world will stand still for us. My 10-year-old bulldog, Abigail, passed on, computer was stolen, son’s house was scorched by the Boulder Fire, riots in Egypt — life goes on without regard to geographical location. I just got a bit of a reprieve not being in the direct line of life’s events at home. Those events reinforced the old adage of “enjoy every moment” – we don’t know what the next minute will bring.
The world is inexhaustible so it leaves that gate open to wonder. (Tim Cahill)
A new train ride awaits me in a few days. I am leaving Avignon for Nice, and then, on to Genoa, Italy.
Take good care, me
THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO ABIGAIL
July 2000 – January 2010
“THANKS FOR ALL THE SMILES YOU BROUGHT TO SO MANY FACES!”