It is our last night before we return home and what an amazing 10 days it has been. I have gone back and forth between giddy excitement that this beautiful old maison and piece of french countryside is indeed ours, to absolute terror over the magnitude of this venture. I think I have been too scared to write because my hope and optimism do seem to wane daily. We have also been incredibly busy every single waking hour with the signing of papers for our final deed with the seller in front of the Notaire (note to self…maybe wait until you’re over your jet lag before signing important legal documents in French), aquiring home & farm insurance (ditto), going to residency appointments, shopping at the DIY stores for supplies, and cleaning & working late every night. I even attempted working for DDB last week with only intermittent internet access on top of having contracted the flu on day three until I finally just hit the wall and could barely move.
Oh, and we sold our house in Topanga the day after we signed our deed. Once our counter offer was approved and signed, I gave notice at work because I wanted to give them plenty of notice. With a 30-day escrow with our cash buyers, we were looking at returning in 4 week’s time, on the 20th of October. We had a lot to do in a very short period of time.
The house at Petit Clos was an absolute nightmare when we first opened the door and unfortunately, we did not get the benefit of having our beautiful antique french furniture left there greeting us to soften the blow. M. Coussy’s adult children sold it all out from under him (and us) and because this was part of our original agreement, he had to make good in the form of financial compensation as well as throwing in a Ford 5700 tractor with attachments (Hank’s little baby). Plus, to add insult to injury, they left all of the crap. Gross, disgusting, rat-poop-infested and moldy crap including a broken down naugahyde sleeper sofa, the stained mattress and bed that grandma probably died in, along with her wheel chair and bed pan, and about a quarter inch of 50-year-old grease in the kitchen. There were hundreds of empty wine bottles left in old plastic fertilizer bags and of the three large crates that originally contained just as many nice bottles of Merlot, they were kind enough to leave us an entire crate of vinegar that caused us to curse their inconsideracy on a daily basis. I kept picturing them in my mind saying, "oh, these stupid Americaines won’t know the difference between good wine and vinegar" which pissed me off even more although I had absolutely nothing to base this made-up assumption on. I just didn’t like them.
But then we would have our good days. Like the evening that we walked through our vineyards with a nice glass of Bordeaux and goofy ear-to-ear smiles while we admired the rolling hills and fields during the coucher de soleil (sunset). We discovered the fig tree filled with ripened fruit as well as rows and rows of wild blackberries and chestnuts under a gigantic tree and what looked like blue berries until I tasted one. I spit it out and washed the potential poison from my mouth with my wine as we laughed at what ignorant city folks were truly were and just hoped we didn’t unintentially kill ourselves.
We discovered that our local boulangerie about a kilometre away was run by a friendly baker who specialized in in making pain de campagne loaves cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven. We also got used to the odd hours for shopping again and learned which villages had their marches on the typically dead Sundays and Mondays when most everything else was closed. We were invited for drinks and dessert at Isabelle and Thierry’s who gave us invaluable advise on artisans and stores in the area and we all laughed about Hank and his new tractor and whether or not the owner may have left us a lemon without a good transmission because "why else would he leave it?" according to Thierry. I visited Colette in her new, sunny apartment in La Sauvetat de Dropt and she made me a wonderful lunch of different entres, including homemade dolmas that she had just rolled from the leaves on the grape vines growing on her patio fence, egg salad stuffed tomatoes and a rabbit pate. We caught up for over three hours and she informed me that she has quite a few local French and British women interested in our "cooking club" upon my return. I cannot wait.
We experienced the French bureauracy first hand as we obtained our residency permits after having our required medical exams in Bordeaux. This was not an easy task as it is mainly done through mail correspondence and designated appointments that we had no control over (ie. If we were actually going to be in the country on the dates they had scheduled for us). If not for Isabelle, who persistently called and argued with the secretary at the OFII office in Bordeaux (Office Français de L’immigration et de L’integraion) on our behalf, I am sure we would not have been successful. We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of everyone at this government office and Hank of course had all the doctors cracking up in his limited French. After various medical questionaires and exams, and submitting even more copies of our passports and house deed, we were stamped and approved as legal residents of France. Now all that is left for us to do is renew it by November when our original 1-year VISA expires.
I met with the vice principal of Caleigh’s school and scheduled her return in early November when they resume school from the October break and he informed me that she could have free french lessons 3x a week after school. He personally offered to help ALL of us with our French which seemed incredibly kind.
All in all, my French was not as God-awful as I thought it would be. I could actually understand so much more than before, especially in restaurants and stores. My mind seemed to have relaxed a bit and hopefully it will continue so that I can actually utter a coherent sentence someday.
So, we’re back in a month for good. I’m still giddy & terrified depending on the day, but definitely ready for this next chapter to finally begin.