Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Going Home.

The spring buds fattened slowly forth into summer fruits, the summer fruits gorged on the sun and the rain and ripened into swollen bunches of sugar and promise and then the village came forth to stoop and pick and gather. All that was grown and fostered, nurtured and tended came to fruition and it was time to bring the harvest to bear, to say this is what we have made and this is what it will become. 

As with the grapes so with our plans. Our ideas for what was to be, our thoughts on what had passed. Our desires and dreams and hopes and wishes. Those that had not come to fruition were let go sadly and with many tears.

We had been flirting with a dream but as the rains fell and the sun beat down it was becoming clearer every day that our dreams, the ones we had been focusing on – they weren't ripening. Perhaps they were planted in the wrong place, perhaps the conditions weren't right or the timing wasn't ideal, maybe the weather hadn't been quite optimal but as the season drew on it became clearer, storm by storm, day by day that although we had wished and hoped and dreamed of a long term life in France, the reality was that it wasn't quite working for us. 

Although the plan had always been that we would just come here for a few months while we figured out the next step, we had harbored secret dreams of staying forever, I mean why wouldn't you? It's beautiful, it's perfect. Except. Except that it's not home and it turns out that we long for home - somewhere where the ground is receptive to roots being placed. Here, although we have tried, our roots have pushed up against rock and boulder, have been baked and burned in the heat, half drowned in the rains, struggled to get by in the climate that is very hospitable to only one thing, one crop that has evolved over thousands of years to thrive here. A crop that isn't ours. 

The realisation that however hard we wished for it this wouldn't be our home and that what we really longed for home was painful, it hurt. We have loved it here. Over the last two months the tiny roots that had managed to push through the ancient rock and slate, that had begun to cling slowly but dearly to the landscape were eased away, pulled from habit and familiarity, from hope and recognition and although they were wrapped in the damp cotton of loving and careful relocation they cried, aching for the place that they had so desperately tried to make home. My heart, it aches. 

I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay, until I didn't. I wanted France to be my home, French to be my language, these to be my people. This place where people care about the things that I care about, about family and food and celebration and the small but sacred routines of every day life. This place. it speaks to my soul in so many ways but not in the ways in which my soul can speak back. How different it would be if we were French.


Sometime over the endless two months that was W&P's school holidays there came a point that felt like The Time, the point where we had to decide to either commit to investing a serious amount of time in France and finding our own home, or to leave. And so we decided to leave, to try that thing that we have talked of and batted back and forth for the last ten years. That thing that has always been our maybe and our some day and our what if and our but I don't think I could. The life that has sung a siren song to us and yet always scared the sweet crap right out of us. 

In a few weeks we are moving to the Western Isles of Scotland. To the island that my grandmother comes from, that we spent every childhood holiday on, that I moved to with my mum when I was twelve – a move that the only upside of which I could think being that if we lived there we would have to go somewhere else on holiday. And yet, within a few weeks I was as happy there as I've been anywhere. My feelings about the place are mixed. It's home, home of my heart, home of my dreams. It's the colour of my soul and the picture that creeps across my canvas. It's my answer to the inevitable 'where are you from?'.  It's also the place of my most anxious recurring  nightmares, the claustrophobia of a life I've already lived, a life that I remember as both the best of times and the worst of times. Home, in other words. 

There are a million things that draw me back and a good half dozen that repel me. In the interests of my family and our future and the possibility that it might just be the thing that soothes my soul, I've agreed to move back, to try it one more time, thirteen years after I last lived there.

Nye and the girls are delighted. There is talk of dogs and chickens and beaches and lambs. Cows and horses and goats and open fires. Newly built houses and machines that convert methane into heated swimming pools. Of friendships and conversation and being able to share a common language with people again. Of proximity to family and to the dearest of friends. Of remoteness, of the wilds, of living a life on the edge of all the things that most people hold dear. Of home. And for that I hold the greatest hope. Home. God, how I've missed it. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

the coffee, the cave and the voices in my head.

Life here is increasing beautiful. I'm slowly finding the abiity to switch off the voice in my head that has been insistently needling that we need to decide what we're going to do and where we're going to go, that we can't live in someone else's basement forever, that we need to get jobs and make a plan and find direction. Muting that voice has been no small job. It has been the longest, most frustrating mediation session ever; three months long.

You know when you wake up in the night to pee and on the way to the bathroom a thought starts to form out of the delicious sleepy fog that you are drifting through - or worse, a song lyric sniffs out your vulnerable consciousness and tries to worm its way in while your defenses are down - and although it would be so easy to just let your brain drift where it wants to go you know that you have to silence that fucker right now or you will be awake for the next three hours singing Copacabana or wondering what exactly it is that you're doing with your life? That's what most waking moments of the last few months have been like but I'm finally reaching that place where when I go to listen to what the voice in my head is saying it's no longer there and instead of the awareness of silence allowing the noise to creep back in, I can just enjoy the quiet. It's pretty nice.

Things I have been enjoying about France recently have included;

Iced coffee. I'd only ever had it once before and it was kind of watery and crap. Then I made my own and forgot to dilute the supposed 'concentrate' and woohoo! That is how you drink it – icy espresso. I've had to ration myself though as I was getting a bit carried away. The first time I overdid  it and got the shakes it came as a bit of a surprise to me, as if I'd imagined that maybe coffee needs heat to trigger the reaction between caffeine and brain; reader, it doesn't.

Brewing it cold makes much nicer coffee than attempting to cool down hot coffee and making it is extremely easy in a cafetiere (which, FYI, we still call a chocolatey ear.) If you have one then there is no need at all to piss around with a kilner jar and repeated straining through increasingly fine filters. Unless of course you want to photograph the whole process for instagram/pinterest/your blog, in which case what I'm about to tell you probably won't cut it; fill your cafetiere 1/4 full of ground coffee, top it up with cold water, put the lid on but don't press down the filter, leave it in the fridge for at least 12 hours, press, decant into a bottle or flask or (if you really have to) a mason jar and voila, done. Dilute it if you must but it tastes better neat over ice.

Le Grotte. We live in the mountains, there are holes under the mountains, it's nice to go in holes on hot days. We visited Grotte de Clamouse with our friends who were visiting from Scotland. It was over thirty degrees outside and a very lovely fifteen in the cave. The tour guide was very concerned that we weren't wearing enough and that we'd freeze in these subterranean temperatures; 'you would like I give you some more clotheses? I think you should have some clotheses.' (we were in fact wearing clotheses, just not ones made from polyester fleece.) I'm not sure he believed us when we told him it was currently warmer in the cave than it was in Scotland nor understood when we explained that back in Glasgow much of the population would definitely consider this temperature Taps Aff.

Were I more poetic I would write about the Grotte (cave) and how beautiful it was. About the cathedrals of stalactites and stalagmites, about how they grow less than 10cm every thousand years, how some of the ones in these pictures are a million (A MILLION) years old, how the cave is in total darkness apart from a few twinkling torches that light up the crystalline growth. About the explorers who found it a mere 70 years ago, about how a river flows through it in the winter months and how some of those million year old formations break occasionally and come crashing to the ground, destroying other million year old formations in their paths. But I'm hot and I'm tired and I drank too much fucking coffee today and I have no poetry in me. Sorry.

(A Little Bit) The weather. It's glorious to be warm. It's glorious to wear very few clotheses. It's glorious to have a little bit of a tan even though we're not supposed to enjoy having a tan because any discoloration of the skin is simply sun damage and you will get cancer and die. I've never had a tan before for a number of reasons; 1) I'm Scottish and my natural skin colour in my natural climate is Reflection of the Sea Upon an Arctic Glacier (pantone 13-4404 TCX). 2) I have spent most of my life in the UK where temperatures have averaged at Disappointing. And 3) I've never holidayed abroad for more than a couple of weeks and it clearly takes three bloody months for me to stop looking like Anna when it all goes wrong.

It's nice to look down at my legs and see them look... healthy. To wear flesh tones and not have them disappear Who knew?

There are many other things that I've been enjoying about France; outdoor swimming, cheap as chips cherries, a dog to play Ridiculous Fetch with, happy free-range kids, being invited to French birthday parties, cheese and cheese and cheese, learning about wine, drinking about wine, planning camping trips in the woods, taking photos again,  visits to the lake, eating of the cheese and the cherries and the wine... I could go one but it's time to go and collect my kids from glorious French pre-school. L'ecole is about to end for the summer holidays and I predict that my mood may not remain so high for very much longer. (This post felt like an eerie premonition of the eight weeks ahead.)

On Monday we are off to camp for a few days in the mountains further north from here. I can't wait. We all need a break from this break.

I leave you with this, scene from expatriated parenthood (and the extent of my French joke-telling ability. You are welcome.)

'une petit deux petit sat on a wall,
une petit deux petit had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
had their heads chopped off cause this is France.'  
'That's not right mummy.'  
 'No, but it's funny.'  
 'It's not really.'  
 'Tell me a properly funny one.'  
'une petit deux petit sat on a wall,
une petit deux petit had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
fell in a pile of poo.'  
'I preferred my version.'