After four months, the time has come for us to leave Quillan, and I am as miserable as the weather at the thought.
As I spend a long weekend writing, feverishly beavering to complete my first book draft while the boys adventure in the snow in Andorra, I am reminded that loneliness is a major challenge we face when uprooting ourselves from our regular lives, wider family, friends, colleagues and connections to move to the other side of the world.
As an extrovert and a fairly social person, who likes to spend time with people, it is unexpected and unsettling for me to discover it is possible to be lonely, while surrounded by people; living in a sizable town, even while having good ‘friends’ and neighbours and knowing others in the wider community.
This year was the first time the boys had experienced Christmas in France. It was an opportunity to do things a bit differently, being away from home, living in someone else’s house, visiting others and sharing the Christmas festivities with French friends.
It helps that Christmas in France is in the winter – with the dark and the cold, it fits all the prevailing stereotypes of the season and actually feels like Christmas!
When the boiler broke down last week, I wasn’t initially too worried as I have become experienced in resetting it thanks to an earlier failure. But after four days of freezing temperatures, no heating, no hot water, and no sign of a qualified tradesman willing or able to fix it, I was becoming less optimistic.
I had been wondering what would happen to the market when the bad weather hits but recent experience proves that the market stops for nothing.
Last week, the rain was teeming down all night and it was blowing a gale, but the vans started rolling in to the square as usual, and were setting up in the dark, after 6am. Farmers and market gardeners in this part of the world are clearly made of stern stuff, even if the punters aren’t.
The history and fortunes of French villages are inextricably linked to their local water sources – at least in popular folklore – and this region is no different.
Writers like Marcel Pagnol in ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon des Sources’ have created something of a mystique and a romantic ideology around the important of village springs to community and livelihood, true or otherwise.
We have certainly heard many stories since arriving in Quillan, of the various local springs, and advice on which to sample depending on what you are looking for. The practice here does seem to be to prefer water direct from a source, than from a tap, or even from bought spring water.
Opinion has generally been unanimous that that the source at Axat is the one to go for, so we have been keen to test the theory. There was the just the small matter of navigating the narrowest piece of gorge road in the Haute Vallee de l’Aude to contend with.
The Sunday market at Esperaza is a much larger and altogether more bohemian affair than the weekly ones in Quillan, and attracts a large crowd of locals, travellers and tourists for its wide variety of produce, clothing, homeware, artisan and craft stalls.
There’s a definite spiritual and alternative lifestyle dimension to this market, and with the riverside location, and the gypsy entertainment, you could be fooled for thinking you were on the set of the movie ‘Chocolat’.
Back in New Zealand there are lots of things that we miss about France. But what I will miss most about Quillan when I return home, as last time, is the Place de la République – ‘our’ square – which gives us an incomparable outlook on the comings and goings of daily life.
One of the things we like most of all about France and the French is their enduring love affair with cinema. The beauty of life In Quillan (and one of our criteria for a place to live) was the local cinema just 2 minutes’ walk from home. We were there as often as we could make it and promised ourselves we’d continue with this tradition back in Wellington. So when the annual French film festival rolls around, it’s an easy excuse to indulge.
It’s now coming up for four months since we returned from the Pyrenees and already our life in France feels like something in the distant past.
There’s an inevitability about this when life in the present is so all-encompassing. What isn’t important doesn’t get done. What isn’t front of mind doesn’t get thought about.
To help keep our French experience closer to the front of mind, we promised ourselves the odd ‘treat’. Aspects of life that we enjoyed most about our trip and that would remind us of the time we spent in Quillan.
Probably the one we succeed at most is the French breakfast. Sundays are about the one day in our house that we don’t have something pressing to get up for. So we enjoy croissants and baguette with coffee, accompanied by French music most Sundays.
Less successful is the aspiration to get to more (French) cinema and to take the time for a regular family aperitif. Daily life with its relentless pace of activity too easily gets in the way.
This week our set of coffee table photo books from our trip arrived by courier though, a perfect memory jogger permanently under our noses.
Must be time to sit down for a drink and a browse…