Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Chateau

Let me paint you a picture of my life at this moment:
I'm sitting in a little flat situated in a chateau in the small village of Sacy-le-petit. Life is good - a small band of wwoofer's, six in total, have spent our day off in Compeigne, biking to historical war sites (one of the hundreds France has to offer), eating picnics on the quai, and watching newlyweds leave the town hall. The Scotsman is humming along to the Amelie soundtrack, while Miss H., the Mother and Daughter, and the Composer and Play write bustle around downstairs getting the table ready for dinner.

But. Let me tell you. It has not always been this way. At all. In fact, I nearly left my first night. An abrupt 'blow-up' left me sitting on a grassy knoll, wondering 'Why am I here?'

And then, deciding to take this as a learning opportunity, I stayed. And I'm so lucky that I did. I can't even to begin to describe this place, but maybe if I leave a list of 'things learned,' you'll understand this magical place in the L'Oise.

1. Miss H., in addition to being a somewhat erratic french woman, is also a former tightrope-walking-singer. She experienced a bit of fame in the '80s, before inheriting her grandparent's Chateau in the mid-'90s. And here we find ourselves.

2. Miss H. also has an incredible Rolodex (in the literary sense...organization seems to make her flustered, thus nothing in the physical sense exists) of fascinating friends that include not only painters, sculptures, but trapeze artists, and fellow tightrope walkers. Some of whom have come to dinner while I've stayed here.

3. The Chateau runs on a code of unspoken rules that include the following: no discussing recipes at the dinner table (or film scenarios for that matter), never ever bring the ceramic mugs outside - that's what the metal mugs are for, and when weeding, poppies always stay. Even if it's the carrot patch. Even if you're re-graveling the path that leads up to the house, keep the poppy thats growing in the middle. And you do. not. drink wine with soup. Oh, and asparagus is never a 'side-dish', always its own course.

Part French, part eccentric, part human, Miss H. is unlike any I've ever met before. What a two weeks it has been...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

(author's note: this post was written last Wednesday, but has been unable to be published due to complete lack of internet!)

As I write this, I’m sitting in my friend Laura’s kitchen, making her coffee before she goes to work. I’ve moved my pile of belongings to her loft, officially leaving my little studio on rue de Jean Guiton. Today is the massive cleaning day, and tomorrow I’ll have my rendez-vous with the agency so they can determine how much of my deposit I’ll get back. Here in France, the etat de lieu is very important – before I moved in, my English friend Rose told me horror stories of people who got charged to replace the dry-wall after a 'nic' in the plaster was discovered. All things considered, however, I think I’ll be okay.

And so, as I’m moving out of my apartment, I’m also moving onto the next phase of my life. In the short term, this means three more weeks in Europe. On Saturday I’m leaving to spend two weeks at a Chateau in the Oise department. This is another Wwoofing venture, only instead of a vineyard, I think I’ll be working in a garden and with artists. And finally, I’ll be meeting Katie in Vienna and we’ll be jaunting over to Budapest for the week. She will be studying abroad for the month of June in Vienna and we couldn’t let an opportunity to meet in Europe pass us over – she’s coming a week early, I’m staying a few weeks late, and I think our first sister trip will be absolutly wonderful.

As I prepare to move, travel, return home, I can’t help but reflect on this year – the year of figuring out french life, of learning how to teach, of personal growth, of adventure. These seven months have passed so quickly.

I can say that I dream of the day where one piece of paper will suffice when dealing with administrative tasks, but still – even then- la vie francaise is a beautiful one. Some of my favorite moments have included biking out to the ‘Ile de Re,’ mucking for oysters, and our little gang biking through La Rochelle at all hours of the day. And I love (love!) how the French appreciate the fine details of living. How asking for a restaurant suggestion means a serious, well thought-out response. And this continues into the realm of wines, breads, coffees, even the kind of mustard one should buy at the grocery store.

I’ll be leaving this wonderful, albeit eccentric, life soon. It seems my future holds another year in Europe, but that’s for a different post. For now, let me just say, what a year its been...