My California friend warned me that life in a small French village would be boring.
I thought at first I should have listened.
The exciting adventure I’d once imagined bore little resemblance to my new reality. At 68, I wanted to think of myself as adventurous and brave – but I began to wonder whether impulsive and foolish might be more apt.
The place I’d agreed to lease for a year wasn’t quite the quaint little cottage I’d envisioned and the prospect of being stuck in a tiny village with no car had started to sink in.
Things began to pick up with the delivery of a washing machine, arranged by the owner after I drew the line at hauling my dirty laundry on a bus to the laundromat in the next village.
A very tiny washing machine (just like the very tiny fridge) that was still spinning and sloshing several hours after I’d put in the first load. Around dinner time, it was still sloshing. At bedtime, as I removed the dripping clothes, I reminded myself that I’d come to France for something different.
I told myself that I was adventurous and brave. Still, I could at least make my new abode more liveable. I decided to convert part of the bedroom into a workspace. As I sat at the computer, churning out deathless prose, I could gaze out of the window at the villagers doing quaint and picturesque villager things.
It would take a while to adjust my pre-moving to France visions with actual living in France realities.
To achieve this writerly space, I would have to move the heavy iron bed across the room, something I couldn’t manage by myself. The owner said she’d call in a couple of the village lads. She wasn’t sure what time they’d show, but advised me to just hang around and wait.
What else did I have to do?
While I waited, I draped the bed with a variety of silk scarves I’d brought from the States and replaced the heavy quilt of some undetermined color with the burned orange duvet that I’d also brought along. I have this thing about bright colors and drapey fabric. Left alone, I could easily convert a simple room into Madame Olga’s boudoir.
The day wore on, the help didn’t appear. I considered going to bed when I heard voices outside. I opened the door to find four brawny lads, one of them holding a glass of red wine, all of them clearly in their cups.
“We have come to move your temple of pleasure,” the one with the wine glass said.
I figured it must have been the Madame Olga decor.
A few weeks later, I met up with them again at the village cafe. By that time, I’d also made friends with Pauline, an English woman married for years to a French winemaker.
One Friday night, she invited me to join her and a few friends at the village cafe. There might be music, Pauline said, maybe food too if Marianne, the proprietress, felt like cooking. No menu, just whatever she served up.
Located around the corner from the small village square, the cafe had a pool table on one side and a long wooden bar on the other. Perched on stools where the Temple of Pleasure lads, all obviously feeling no pain. Most of them worked for the local wine cooperative, Pauline said.
All were probably younger than my fifty-five-year- son.
I suddenly felt acutely conscious of my age.
Pauline, I guessed, was in her fifties — in fact, everybody in the whole cafe was younger than me. I thought about making an excuse to leave. Instead, I found les toilettes, peered at myself in the yellowing mirror, fluffed up my hair, and decided to hell with age. If I didn’t let it stop me from moving to France, I damn well wasn’t going to make it an excuse to limit the experience of living here.
So back to the bar and an empty stool next to Pauline. And, on my other side, one of the lads who introduced himself as Rico. His English was on a level with my French, but he said he wanted to learn more. He loved California he told me, but he’d never been there. He’d never been to Paris either, but maybe one day.
A few glasses of wine later, the TV above the bar began showing videos of Elton John performing his greatest hits and Rico went off to play pool. I talked to Pauline and her friends who mostly wanted to know what it was like to live in California and why would I leave to come here — here being a small winemaking village in the middle of nowhere.
I thought of my California friend and her prediction that I’d be bored. Maybe the grass is always greener no matter where.
People drifted in and out, the guy behind the bar set out a wicker basket of goldfish crackers, it didn’t seem very French, but they were gone in an instant. Marianne apparently wasn’t in the mood to cook.
A guy further down the bar leaned over two other guys to tell me, “Elton John is the best.”
Feeling the wine, I couldn’t make my brain come up with a response in French so I just smiled and nodded. Then he said it again and went off to join Rico at the pool table. Sometime later, he sat down next to me, and said, “Elton John is the best.” Then, a little louder. “The best. Elton John is the best.”
Pauline and her friends were playing pool. I decided to call it a night. One advantage to a very small village — everything is within walking distance, provided your needs are quite basic. And, I was perfectly safe walking alone, even at midnight. I hadn’t confirmed that with Pauline, perhaps I should, but I wanted to believe I would be safe.
By the time I said goodnight, the guy at the bar reminded me again that ‘Elton John was the best,” and Rico was wearing the straw basket that had contained the goldfish crackers and dancing on a table.
And my friend said village life would bore me.
Janice Macdonald still lives in France where she writes at janicemacdonald.medium.com and on youtube.com/c/JaniceInFrance