Last August we took possession of our dream house – and our dream life in France. After spending six weeks in the village over winter getting the house set up, it is now available for short-term rentals.
We have had our house closed up since we took possession at the end of August, and are abut to head over for the first time, to get it set up for renting. Now is when things get real fast. It turns out that when buying a house in France, buying the house is actually the easy part. When it comes to furnishing the place, I am reminded just how much work is involved in turning a house into a home.
It has been a long journey, with more turbulence than a long-haul flight over the Urals, but, touch wood, we will soon own a house in France.
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.
With a long weekend ahead of us, Tom and I decided to take the opportunity for a night away in the wine-growing region to the South-East of Quillan.
Driving east on the D117 and not in any hurry, this was our chance to do some exploring along the way, so we planned a relaxed start, a leisurely walk up to one of the many neighbouring Cathar castles, a long auberge lunch, and a mid-afternoon wine tasting on the domaine where we’d booked to stay the night in a simple gite.
When the weather dawned cold, misty, wet and windy on the morning of our departure, we refused to be put off. But it did make for a more interesting and memorable experience.
Considering the complexity of moving a family around the world, I’ve been remarkably sanguine about the whole thing.
Quitting my job, organising the house, making school arrangements in a foreign language. Solo parenting for two months in a foreign country while running a B&B. None of these big and life changing decisions have ever caused me a moment’s hesitation or the slightest concern.
Instead, I find myself paralysed at the thought of changing a light bulb. What is this phenomenon that has me sweating the little things?
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.