Tuesday, 20 June 2017

ONE YEAR AWAY

It's just been a little over a year since we packed up our home in Bristol and set off with a temperemental van toward the south of France. It feels like a good moment to look back over the past twelve months and catch our breaths.

There has been the discovery of places so beautiful that they seem to reach out and share their peace with me. There have been moments of true loneliness. There have been times when I have been wide eyed in awe at Florent's unfaltering rhythm as he builds a house around us. There have been times when mothering the girls without a break has made me feel broken. There have been times when I have thanked the universe for the good things in my life as I watch my girls play, crouching down to entice a ladybird onto outstretched fingers or wading into rivers to float leaves downstream.

Last summer was a overheated introduction to the village, the paperwork and perfectly slow yet unrelenting time with the girls. No internet. It was a summer of sticky skin and reading any books I could get my hands on. It was endless days by the river trying to keep cool as Florent began the mamouth task of renovating this ancient home. It was meeting new people and seeking out friendship.

In Autumn we moved in to the house. It as such a celebration to finally be living in the home we are creating. It was also a new reality of living in a single room of 10m2, flushing a toilet with a bucket of water and trying to eek out corners and space for the girls to play and the beginning of an endless battle with clutter. But we felt so proud.

Winter was the draping of woolen blankets over doorways and the spreading of them across the floor, preservation of the precious heat. Endless craft with the girls : Painting, drawing, creating and cooking, cup of tea brewing and layers of clothes for short walks. Tears as the cold pinched through children's gloves.

Wished for and waited for, Spring brought the garden, sowing and planting. Afternoons on the hill topped with a chapel and watched over by the Virgin Mary statue. The scent of violets and endless cowslips, the first butterflies and one devestating last frost.

And so it's summer once again. Sticky skin, again. Afternoons inside. Late lakeside evenings perfumed by woodsmoke and musky woodland. The girls strip off at every opportunity. I force on hats but never really win. Little L has dainty freckles and Little I turns caramel.

Our time in Bristol seems so long ago and yet we are still finding our feet here. I still miss my friends and family and my old home but it feels like there's been another shift toward some anchorage here too. Some deepening of new friendships, some meetings of minds and exciting plans. Little I calls me 'Maman' and Little L speaks perfect 'franglais' and asks for roquefort with expert french 'r's.

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When, earlier this month, Little I turned two, we took off to a little cabin in the mountains of Ariege. Parking the van when the track became impassable, we walked the last two kilometres in the fog and coming dark. Florent had a raging headache and walked on ahead and I walked at child pace with the girls, trying to be enthusiastic whilst calling after Florent through gritted teeth. Sometimes we hate each other and this was one of those times. Florent hated me for not expecting that a cabin for only 10€ a night would have a hitch such as this and I hated Florent for not finding the beauty in a muddy track whilst carrying a tonne of tinned food, my watercolours and Little I's birthday present of books. It was the recipe for a weekend of resentment and not really the marking of the two joyful years Little I has shared with us all.

As it turned out, we arrived and it was beautiful. Wood, buddhist prayer flags, candles and enough cushions for send the girls into a frenzy of nest buiding and baby bird impersonations.

The next morning the mist had cleared and we awoke to an incredible view over the mountains. We attempted a walk, got stuck in a bog and decided to return to the cabin, found the path we should have followed all along and spent the afternoon painting and trying to coax the girls outside, away from the supersized birds nest.

 



 




The next day we travelled back, winding our way through some mountain villages and over some passes before following the valleys home. We descended from Port de Lers, a mountain pass of just over 1500 metres, pulling twice into a layby to let some cyclists past (!?!), the girls were asleep, the mountainside became covered in woodland and waterfalls roared down towards us and then under the road. I felt a feeling close to freedom and Florent and I didn't hate each other anymore and it all seemed right.




 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

WE FINALLY GOT TO THE SEA

May was the month of Grandparents. Florent's parents visited and then my Mum. We were very happy to have family visiting and the girls loved the extra love and attention. It felt like a holiday for all of us. These visits add to our determination to continue to renovate the house as well as we can and offer our friends and family somewhere comfortable to stay rather than the tent in the attic (sorry Mum).
And, we finally got to the sea! After living here for almost a year we made the trip through the arid Corbières hills, all the way to the Mediterranean. It was amazing to discover new places and climates and plants. We walked for hours in the hills above the beautiful port of Collioure, through terraced vineyards tended to only by hand and amongst blazing yellow broom. There were groves of cork oak, olive trees and aloes and cactus. As is always the case with us, a circular walk that should take two hours took us all day but despite the slow pace we do feel very proud by the end of it. Proud of the girls and of ourselves for our own sheer determination to encourage them, sometimes plead with them (!) and, at times, hoist them on to our backs and shoulders so we can finish what we set out to accomplish!

 








 


 





When we were thinking about our move to France, this little corner of the Pyrenees seemed right; not too far from the sea, not too far from Spain and beautiful in it's own right. I even imagined that weekend camping trips to Morrocco would be on the cards. We had, however, grown used to British distances, where a journey that lasts an hour seems long. Suddenly, in remote southern France, with a van that guzzles fuel, the small budget and a lot of building work to crack on with, Spain and the Med seemed much further away than they looked on a map! And Morrocco is what my dreams are made of for the moment.

There is so much to discover on our doorstep this has not so much been a disapointment but more a lesson in how there is a wealth of things to enjoy right here. Taking the time to find private corners on the lakeside, marvelling at the seasonal changes along the same footpaths and discovering where the small roads around here may lead us.












 

Spring is giving way to summer here. It's hot and storms threaten and lizards sun themselves on walls and paths. We went mad foraging wild cherries and yarrow and elderflower. We finally plugged in our fridge and freezer and it's been pretty luxurious. I was desperate to start freezing all the surplas from the garden for homegrown goodness later in the year and the cool of the house was not enough to keep the butter from slowly melting away from the dish and across the table... (And we can stockpile fishfingers for lazy lunches!)







I have been in the garden lots, mostly battling bindweed, a battle I am inevitably loosing but the plants are growing well and I am beyond excited at the prospect of what I might be able to grow in this sunny climate. The girls harvested the two carrots (a not so successful February sowing) yesterday and then Little L lost one of them. We're hoping for more success soon.


 



THE HOUSE

The enormous amount of clay from the courtyard has now been excavated and removed. Florent's new hulk like upper bodymakes it look like he's been using steroids. Anyone feeling insecure about the width of their shoulders, don't risk roid rage just come and dig our garden, there's a tent in the attic waiting for you...

Luckily for Florent's back it's masonry work now. Rebuilding walls and then pointing them. The sandstone he's working with is hard to cut, often cracking and slowing down the process. On the rainy we've had work shifts inside to the kitchen/ living area which now has a ceiling (very much working from top to bottom!).