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.
Our walk today was one out of the Bear Grylls children’s book series, as we tracked the hooves and smells of sanglier (wild boar), who had passed ahead of us on the muddy and leaf-strewn tracks through the hills.
For the second time, we joined a Saturday afternoon walk under the auspice of the Haute Vallée Randonnée walking group, this time starting from the nearby village of St Ferriol, a short drive from Quillan.
It’s no secret that I hanker after a little piece of France to call home. I also love looking at houses and admiring interior designs, so what better distraction when in the south of France than to browse the windows of real estate agents and arrange the odd viewing.
One of the first things most people ask us when we tell them our plans is: Where are you going in France? When we tell them we are going to a small town called Quillan, about 40km due south of Carcassonne, the next question is Why?
So why Quillan? And why back to Quillan? On the one hand it’s a thoroughly researched choice. On the other hand, there’s something entirely random. And then, there’s the chance that fate has a hand…
As I come to the end of day one of our new life in Quillan, the enormity of what we are doing is dawning on me.
Two-and-a-bit years after our last Grand Adventure, our family is heading back to France. This time it’s largely a known quantity. Same town – Quillan in the French Pyrenees. Same school. Almost the same house – just a stone’s throw away.
But this time is different.
On Bastille Day, two years to the day since we left Quillan to return to New Zealand, and after at least a year of discussion and deliberation, we have made the decision to return to life on our favourite square, in our favourite little town in the Pyrenees. In October 2016 we will return to Quillan for (at least) four months.
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…
It’s been three months since we returned from Quillan. We’ve now been back as long as we were there, and although the time has gone fast, paradoxically our experience already feels like a lifetime ago.
In fact, it feels like another whole life time. It’s quite surreal to think that, only three months ago, we were living in France, the boys attending school, operating completely in another language.
I’ve recently been reading a book written by an Australian woman who took her young family to live in France, initially for several months. Now they spend six months of every year in France, with the other half back in Australia.
I love these books and will never tire of reading them because they remind me that such a life is possible – if you want it enough. This is the life I would love. It’s just a question of whether I want it enough to make it happen.
I’ve been contemplating for some time that we are already living our lives in parallel. On the one hand, we are very much present in our lives in New Zealand – and yet we always have half a mind thousands of kilometres away in a French village. We find ourselves randomly rambling in French at odd times of the day. We dream of baguette and croissants – fresh, warm and crusty from the boulangerie.
So imagine my surprise when I realised that we really ARE living our lives in parallel – on the 42nd parallel to be precise. The Aude is on the 42nd parallel North. Wellington is on the 42nd parallel South.