So, did you miss me? I’m back in the UK for a few days after my first taste of La Vie Francaise. Not sure what to make of it yet. My head is stuffed with fleeting images rather than any cohesive stream of experiences. Let me share some.
Take the venerable nonagenarian whose sole companion is Cici a dancing dog of indeterminate birth, sporting a flashy orange neckerchief in lieu of a collar. Cici’s party trick is, with the encouragement of a biscuit, to pirouette on her hind legs whilst the old lady sings to her. The encore is an invitation for a kiss at which point the mutt slurps a lick and snaffles the biscuit, almost simultaneously. This old gal looks as tho’ she hasn’t a sou to scratch with, lives in a tall stone house that is definitely fin de siecle and probably the denier cri at that time and now looks as tho’ a good puff of wind would blow it over. Yet for all I know she could be la grande dame of the village and swimming in fric. That’s one of the interesting features of these villages… the scruffy git next door with his beat up Renault 4 filled with straw, wood and equally scruffy mutts could just as easily be the seigneur of the place or his feckless handyman. Qui sait? Vive l’egalite.
Signing up for the house felt like another fin de siecle scene.
In the hush of a heavy panelled office there sit the two vendors, one recently risen from his sickbed, the estate agent keen to receive his cheque, myself, big bro and his partner. The Notaire, neat and precise casts a bemused glance over his spectacles at the assortment of humanity seated in a carefully arranged semi-circle in front of his desk. In a rich voice caressing the well-worn legal phrases he reads through the contract of sale, checking every now and then that we lesser mortals have comprehended the full import of his words. With due ceremony he hands me the keys and we have handshakes and “hope you’ll be happy” all round.
Early morning rush hour consists of a man and his three donkeys ambling down the street. Mum donkey in the lead whilst two wayward juveniles frisk after her, stopping now and then to investigate the contents of the jumble of pots, pans and other miscellaneous containers that adorn doorsteps. Occasionally a toothsome bit of greenery takes the donkey fancy but a sharp word from the man and a toss of the head from mum donkey soon draws the young ‘uns back into line
The Saturday flea market in Limoux town square brings a touch of familiarity to the week with stalls of weird and wonderful things with obscure uses, particularly rather sinister looking iron work that looks as though it comes straight from the torture chamber – not that I have any familiarity with Things Like That.
The dusting of icing sugar snow on the mountains; glorious sunshine in the valley coaxing tiny daffies, spears of iris and dog tooth violets to burst into flower. But spring is fickle and not ready to stop flirting with us. The almond, peach and blackthorn blossom is beaten to the ground by sudden rain storms.
The sheer bloody mindedness of the electricity supply staff when arranging to re-connect contrasts with the absolute charm and helpfulness of the guy who actually comes out to replace the essential fuses and gets the whole show on the road again all for 22 euros. Worth it for the smile alone.
What to make of it so far? It’s a question of balance, ying and yang, give and take. The good, the fun and the friendly balanced against the rigid, the awkward and the downright disinterested. Sometimes there’s a sense of defeat and helplessness as I struggle at times with the language and the Languedoc accent. Yet there’s also a sense of positive first steps… I’ve managed to align builder, roofer and electrician… it lacks only Mr Plumber to make up Happy Families. In addition, electricity and water are connected and phone and internet almost available. I’m now the proud owner of a French bank account that took an eon and ten trees worth of paper to achieve.
Back now in the UK I’ll have time to process it all and perhaps award myself a little pat on the back, bearing in mind that this has been the dress rehearsal… when I return in 10 days or so…it’s for real.
PS: did you like the nonchalant way I’ve tossed in a few French words… pity I can’t find a way to add all the acute/grave accents for that touch of authenticity!