Tuesday, 26 July 2016

SIMPLE LIVING

I've written a bit about our intentions to simplify our lives or perhaps more accurately to live a little slower and with less. These past few weeks we have been living this.

Some days we all get up early and accompany Florent to the village and some days we stay in the woods in the tent. When I stay in the woods my days repeat themselves one after another; caring for children, washing (pots, plates, clothes, bodies...), cooking, short walks, play. When I go to the village with Florent I have to occupy myself and the children outside, the entire day, apart from when the library is open which we can never use for long because Ira likes to destroy things, especially books and local photo exhibitions, the kind we find in a library. So we try to catch fish in the river, scout out fruit trees, play in the park, explore footpaths, bike ride, sit under the covered market and draw, play out imagninary games with whatever there is to hand.


Some of this sounds dreamy and sometimes it is. I cannot deny that since we have arrived I have been so much more patient with the girls and more peaceful than ever. Perhaps this is something to do with the slow pace and the fact we haven't spent more than an hour or so inside a building in almost six weeks. However, it can also be very boring. When I look at the time I realise that I have to think of something else to do or spend another hour trying and failing to catch fish and keep the girls interested in this unsuccessful new hobby it's hard not to wish away the time until we have a house and I can neglect the children again while I look at Facebook.

It's also definitely come to the attention of other people in the village that there is an odd woman with two children who appears to never be inside between the hours of 9am and 5pm. I try not to feel self conscious but it's becoming increasingly embarassing as I pass the same people about the village at different times of day. These people are doing normal things like drinking a coffee in a bar, buying bread, driving somewhere... I am not doing normal things: I am helping a child wee behind a bush, scrambling up a bank to take a short cut to nowhere or buying one apple from the ├ępicerie. In case anyone is interested and ever needing to pass time, buying one apple can take up to ten minutes if you want it to. First you pretend you have enough money to be deciding what it is you want to buy, not what it is you can buy. Then you let your small child choose the apple and you make conversation with the person serving you, even if they clearly aren't interested. Finally you can scan any posters or adverts in the shop and hope no one has seen you reading the same information the day before. That's an example of a successful episode in my day when I really can't bear the idea of ten extra minutes in a play park.

One man in the village pointed me out to his friend the other day and then they laughed together. I smiled bravely back, rising above it, but inside I was crying. I wanted to shout at him to go away and ask him what he would do if he had committed himself to a ridiculously frugal way of life and an entire summer of creating children's entertainment from nothing! But, objectively, who can blame him or anyone else for seeing my family as a village curiosity in their rusted bus...?

There are great things about our life without internet or phone signal but the truth is I do also find it a bit boring... I know myself well enough to be sure that in a few months I will look back at this summer and recall it as being a blissful period and forget that there was another side to it too. I hope that by recording this I will instead try to capture that balance between being present with my children and spending long hours on river banks and also taking some time for myself in the comfort of a building.

Perhaps if I had friends here it would be different. I think I will leave the issue of not having friends to another time.










 
 

FIRST MONTH

It's not heat per se, it's the kind of heat that only exists in a tent under the sun. That's the kind of heat I am wondering if I should have allowed into our lives. A lot of people questioned the wisdom of camping for a summer under the sun in southern France and I wish I had listened a little better! On a brighter note, the last few days have brought torrential downpours, the ground under the tent has become soft clay, moulding to the shapes of our feet. The sound of raindrops beating onto the roof of the tent has replaced the hiss of the cicadas and there's that feeling of unrivalled cosyness. Florent and I suspect we are more suited to wet camping holidys in Pembrokeshire. The kind where half the tent blows away in the night and you persevere through the next day with the planned coastal walk, freezing to the bone. Finally, with the family strapped into the car, there are the audible sighs of relief and the comforting glow of Port Talbot industry to the right as the motorway curves reassuringly homeward. Anyway, I digress.

As always there are the difficult moments but also the beautiful ones. The family where we are staying harvested honey from their hives and we watched as the wax lids to the honey comb were carefully sliced off and the honey drained out in a metal barrel. Honey flicking to the sides, catching the sun, like sparks coming off a blacksmith's hammer. Then the children coated their fingers in the honey running from the tap at the bottom of the barrel, licking it into their mouths, smiling sticky smiles. Honey half an hour from the hive.



On the hottest day so far we didn't work but went to the lake to swim, surrounded by other families enjoying the sandy shore, turquoise water and shadey trees. We've watched the Tour de France flash by, cyclists intensely concentrated as they passed by hundreds of spectators shouting and clapping. 



 


The House

I feel that there is a romantic notion behind restoration of an old building. Particularly one that has not been lived in for some years or that is in particularly bad repair. I love the idea of giving use and meaning and value to materials long forgotten or left to dissintegrate. The ressurection of something whose history has become meaningless as long as it is abandoned and unremarked upon. The house, as I've mentioned, is tiny and dark. It's modest. We are beginning to peel back it's layers. Most of the discoveries have been things like finding lead based paint, asbestos chimney flues and roofing. However, from a time predating these sadly fated innovations, we have also discovered large wooden beams in one of the walls, most likely dating back to the original construction of the house, in about 1750. It's interesting but throws up the first dilema; as this makes damp proofing harder and makes the plaster over it more prone to cracks do we use plaster boards to create a smooth and simple wall. We both feel that covering walls which are almost three hundred years old in plaster board isn't quite right...




On the ground floor, under the layer of concrete there are meticulously laid stones, rounded from their original home on a riverbed, arranged upright (known as 'herrison', hedgehog), as damp proofing. Originally they would have been covered with rammed earth but since then the layer of concrete had been added, unfortunately as concrete doesn't 'breathe' the effect of the damp proofing is lost. In truth I'm not really sure what the plan is yet (for the moment Florent and I have shared out the work in a hideously gendered way and he builds and I babysit, hopefully at some point this will shift and I'll be sure of what I am writing about the renovation!).

The work moves forward slowly. Mostly demolition interspersed with discovery.