Six days ago, Ian rattled up in his white van, we loaded up my luggage, I said my goodbyes to Richard and Luisa and we headed south. It rained steadily until we were about half an hour from Montpeyroux and then the clouds lifted and the sky turned a shade of blue I hadn’t seen since I left California. The scenery changed too. Instead of the rolling green Dordogne countryside, I looked out at craggy peaks and endless vineyards interspersed with an arid landscape that reminded me of parts of the western US.
Ian said it reminded him of Cyprus and he felt as though he were on holiday. ‘I’m ready for shorts,” he said. By contrast, I was feeling anxious. Okay the steady rain of the past few weeks had gone on too long, but that’s what made the Dordogne so green. Walking through the woods in Excideuil, along pathways lined with buttercups and daisies, I’d been reminded of England where I grew up. Now, the views from the van window, even down to the terra cotta roofs, looked more like California where, although I’d lived there for years, I’d never felt entirely at home. I wanted the French experience and, illogically since I knew that the south of France had a sunnier climate, somehow what I was seeing wasn’t it.
By the time Ian pulled up outside the apartment, I had the panicky sense that this move had been a mistake. Things didn’t improve when I walked through the front door. The village baker’s cottage had sounded so charming, so French, when I read about it on line; the original oven still in place, vaulted ceilings and 18th century stone work. “Quirky,” Ian pronounced as we looked around the dark cave-like interior. “Don’t worry,” he said, obviously reading my expression, “I can come and get you, if you want to go back to Excideuil.”
He’d hardly been gone ten minutes, when I seriously thought of calling his cell phone. Quirky didn’t begin to describe things. There was no microwave, no toaster, no washing machine and no laundromat in the village; I could bundle up my laundry, I was told, catch a bus to the next village and do my washing there. I had to calm down. I unpacked the computer and tried to write. I thought of writers struggling in garrets. Hardship is romantic, I told myself. A motorcycle careened past my window. Five minutes later, it zoomed back. Then it returned. Then it came back. This went on until the children got out of school and set up a playground outside my window, shrieking at each other –in French, of course, a reminder that this language was a lot harder to learn than I’d ever imagined.
Until that point, everything about my French adventure had gone amazingly well. Two months in France and I was in love with everything about the country. Now France was showing me a different side, one I didn’t particularly care for and we were having our first quarrel. I was disappointed, I’d expected more. Yet, I tried to see the other side. While the idea of boarding a bus to do my laundry did seem a bit much, I wondered if I was overreacting; the spoiled American wanting a foreign experience but unwilling to sacrifice familiar comforts. Needing advice, I poured out my troubles to Facebook. (Fortunately the internet connection was excellent.) The response was gratifying and immediate. Leave. Find something else. Life is too short for bus rides with dirty laundry. I felt vindicated, supported. I wasn’t unreasonable, France was asking too much of me.
Just six days ago, but it seems like forever. So much has happened since; we’ve worked out our problems, ironed out our differences. Those obstacles that were insurmountable back then have been resolved. In the process, I hope I understand a little more about France although I know there’s still so much I have to learn. We hit a bump in the road, but I think our relationship has grown stronger because of it. France, je t’aime vraiment!