Living a life in Quillan

A week ago we finished our three-month-long stint in France. Leaving Quillan felt like a significant ending. I left with questions that cannot yet be answered with certainty. Will we ever return to Quillan? Years from now will we carry regrets about what we did or did not do while we had the chance? Will our children thank us or curse us for it?

When preparing for this journey I had certain expectations about our style of life in Quillan. I thought that many days would follow a neat pattern: an hour of running and an hour of writing in the morning, a long family lunch, another hour of writing or reading in the afternoon, an hour of meandering around shops and stopping at a cafe, and an hour or more of playing with the kids after they finished school. How did it pan out? During May I did the running most mornings, but preparing for a marathon meant that an hour was often not enough. After the marathon on 1 June I deliberately slackened off, running just every-so-often, and only for half an hour or less. The writing never became a regular part of my days, nor did wandering the local shops. Quillan does not have enough shops to warrant much time. We did often stop at a cafe in the morning or afternoon. And we certainly enjoyed a lot of long family lunches – those two-hour lunch breaks from school were great.

One activity that we did more than I had anticipated was exploring the region. Nearly every day we drove to towns and villages in the region, and those outings gave most shape to our days. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays we all went; on school days just Jennie, Nicholas, and I went.

Towards the end of our time in Quillan, I noticed that we were getting better at living our life there. I managed to offend fewer local people than I probably did early on with my critical observations and comparisons with New Zealand. We argued less about how to fill in our days. We knew better what to expect from each other. Tomos would want to visit the pool; Ollie would want to stay up late; Jennie would want us to drive to a village not yet visited; I would want to go walking or running; and together we would settle on a compromise. We all loved different things about our life in Quillan.

We formed habits like pulling certain window shutters to keep out the hot sun in the morning then other shutters in the afternoon, like one parent getting up with Nicholas at 6.30 while the other slept in till 7.30 or 8, and like Ollie buying bread and pastries before breakfast.

But what gives greatest sense of belonging is connections with people, and that is what we were only just on the cusp of when we left. Three months was not quite enough for me to feel that I fitted in. A few days before leaving we were privileged to attend an evening party in an allotment beside the river, and I noticed that although many of the people there were temporary residents of Quillan, they were all there for much longer than us. Our three months seemed shamefully short. At the end of the night our farewells were mostly of the final-and-permanent kind. On our final full day in Quillan I went on a long run with Robert from Australia. It was lovely – up to Ginoles and Coudons then the road back down to Quillan. I wished I had more opportunities to run with him.

Life does not pause just because we have outstanding items on our to-do list. We had visited nearly all the villages within an hour’s drive of Quillan and loved many of them, but we had not quite begun to revisit our favourite places. So we left knowing the places we like but not having spent much time in any of them. Essentially, we have left Quillan with unfinished business. Our life there was good but was, perhaps inevitably, too short.



5 thoughts on “Living a life in Quillan

  1. Jax

    I really enjoyed reading this. I like your thoughtful and honest observations. Would be interesting to hear what Jen thought too.

  2. Jennifer Andrewes

    Bang on – except next time I shall drive myself to more of those villages… 😉
    A couple of other observations:
    – I think next time we would also look to both join more local clubs and associations as a way of meeting local (French) people – you have to actively seek meaningful connections of more significance than just buying something over a counter. These connections are quite hard to make, as a temporary resident, but only this way does your French improve. My best time spent was in having free conversations around daily life, with locals such as the teachers and other parents at the school, or the lovely young woman who ran the weekly baby soft play
    – you are mistaken if you think you can live life completely differently – life does not pause just because you are living in a different country and do not have to ‘go to work’. When living abroad with family, the normal routines of kids and baby apply, often within constrained windows of time in France (3 hours’ school morning, three hours in the afternoon) so while, for example, an hour of running and an hour of writing morning and afternoon would be nice, someone still needs to feed and occupy the baby… For me, that was never a downside. I deliberately planned to do nothing more than just ‘live’ in France, support the boys in their school life, and be part of the community in the same way as I would here. That took a surprising amount of time.
    – you can never visit enough villages, drink enough coffees, and twitch enough curtains 😉 Even a year would probably not be long enough.

  3. adamf2011

    “Essentially, we have left Quillan with unfinished business. Our life there was good but was, perhaps inevitably, too short” — a sentiment that may often be felt about life in general….

  4. graceandgusto

    Hi guys, this was a very interesting read for us considering our trip soon. We are in the process of deciding whether to stay in one place for 12 months or to split it into 2 x 6 month stays. Would love to know what you would do if you had 12 months?? Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Jennifer Andrewes

    Hey Kate, interesting question. I was pondering that as I would love to go back again, but for a year next time. I would personally go for 12 months in the one place – much better for establishing connections and a sense of belonging. Also less disruptive for kids having to start AGAIN at a new school and make MORE new friends. That said, I myself have done it that way, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as if you have struggled through lack of language to make connections in the first school, you can start afresh with more confidence in the second school… If I went for 12 months, I was thinking I would get a job of some sort, perhaps part time, I would probably need to, to make it work financially, but more importantly, to give some structure to the days, and to help make friends and connections. Having time ‘off’ is lovely, but it is ultimately neither fulfilling, nor sustainable. And it doesn’t feel ‘real’. That’s my two cents’ worth… 🙂


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