Life as an expat in France can be a little bit odd at times…
Promenading is a popular “sport” in France. Wandering along a Paris street, admiring the buildings, the alluring cafés, the Eiffel Tower is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And there’s nothing quite like ambling along the swanky Croisette in Cannes. Oor the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, dressed up in your finery and feeling on top of the world. In fact the French make an art of wandering aimlessly, simply enjoying the moment. They even have a word used to describe it: “flâner”.
It’s no different where I am in the middle of nowhere, rural Pas de Calais in the far north of France. Admittedly in my village we don’t have a sea view. We don’t have bars, restaurants or shops either. Or tourists. But people still like to go out for a promenade and wish neighbours met en route a hearty bonjour. In fact I do it twice a day with my husband Mark and three dogs, Churchill, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Bruno, partly on account of the fact that I need to burn more calories as I am able to resist anything but temptation in the form of cakes, wine, cheese, bread, chocolate and a few more things.
We leave the house, wander down the hill and up the steep rue du Chapelle. Then past a tiny chapel, topped by a rather stern looking Saint who points to the lush green hills that make up the Seven Valleys. The dogs chase each other through fields filled with maize and hay, potatoes and beet, the main staples grown by farmers in my village. They run excitedly along the fence where Monsieur, a local man whose name we still don’t know after more than a decade here, keeps his horses, huge creatures known as Boulonnais. Nothing much happens on these walks but the sheer outstanding natural beauty of the area means I am never ever bored by it.
Though, when I say nothing ever happens. That’s not quite true.
We pretty much go the same route every day, turning left at the Chapel. But one day the dogs turned right and ran down a little alley, barking like maniacs. We followed them to see what all the fuss was about and found ourselves face to face with an enormous cow feasting on a flower bed in the front garden of a tiny cottage. As we watched, a pepper pot sized old lady came out of the house. “Merde” she said when she saw the huge beast munching away. She went back in and came out with a length of rope, tied it round the cows neck and tried to pull it off her flowers. It didn’t budge an inch.
“Bonjour Madame” I called “can we help?” She beckoned us in to her small garden and we all pushed and pulled the reluctant-to-move cow. Then Madame Pepper Pot’s husband joined us (he was tiny too) in this unequal tug of war. After a while, the seeming immovable cow got the hump and lifted its head from its floral banquet to moo loudly. The dogs howled, startled by the loud noise. That did it. The cow blinked in surprise. We seized our chance, heaved hard, the Pepper Pots pulled and the cow lurched forward. When we got it back into the field behind the cottage from where it had evidently escaped, Madame Pepper Pot gave us a litre of fresh cow’s milk as a thank you – of course we shared it with the dogs – it was teamwork after all!
Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream – ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online, and My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life