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.
Today’s organised walk took us around the plateau above Brenac, following the sun as it moved from its highest point in the sky to set below the distant hills, leaving us in the increasing cold and returning to our cars in the encroaching twilight in the space of just three hours.
For the latest organised Saturday walk, the rest of the family having arrived in Quillan, Tomos opted to stay at home with his brothers, leaving me to enjoy a walk in the winter sun, ‘on my own’. It was a little odd, not having my constant companion at my side, but a chance to chat with different people and, sometimes, just to enjoy ambling along on my own, at my own pace, without the need for conversation.
This week’s walk, like the first, was again for Telethon, a big event here with weeks of fundraising events culminating this past weekend with televised coverage, and a full programme of activities from zumba, to vide greniers (a community garage sale) and organised walks. There were two walks of different lengths to choose from, both leaving from the hamlet of farmhouses at Pailheres near Esperaza, known as Les Soubirous.
I’ve been attempting to find a way of joining in the local walking group and this last weekend I had a perfect opportunity thanks to a special organised walk for Telethon, all welcome.
Tomos and I joined the easy two-hour walk, starting from Quillan and traversing small surrounding hills and fields in a loop below the Man’s Nose, and towards Brenac before returning to our start point via the rail line from Limoux and Carcassonne.
It was a gorgeous day, the walk was perfect, the company convivial and I would love to do more – but the degree of bureaucracy around joining the walking group may yet prevent us.
This afternoon, being a Wednesday with no school commitments, we had arranged with two of our new resident Quillan friends and keen randonneurs to take a walk up into the hills beyond Ginoles.
I’ve always found walking groups a great way to meet the locals, as well as to get to know the area – and it’s an excuse to speak French over something less transactional than the groceries.
Our destination was off to the top right of the photo, at the level of the cliffs.
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?
Acquaintances in Quillan kindly invited us to a communal repas at their allotment last night, along with the other (French and English-speaking) jardiniers, their families and friends, in honour of Bastille Day and to celebrate nature’s abundance.
Yesterday we drove an hour north via Puivert, Chalabre and Mirepoix to visit friends and colleagues staying in a gite on the grounds of a small chateau, with pool. We enjoyed a simple, but delicious lunch, in good company, of quiche and salad, cheese, and apple tart, washed down with the local rose wine. The boys enjoyed the pool, and the run of the large grassy grounds. Sante!
Last night we joined with the Australian neighbours to host the boys’ teacher (the school Principal) for a barbecue dinner on the roof terrace. We let the Australian man the barbie, and they let us bring the pavlovas. The French guest brought the usual dinner table conversation – politics, the economy, the EU and the education sector. We were not at all intimidated about having brought the wine when he said that wine was one of his favourite things about the region (along with the great walking trails). The boys were not at all pressured by having their teacher to dinner. Nor he by being in their company socially. A good time was had by all and Tomos is now reinstated in the morning French classes. Result!
While in France we are becoming accustomed to the rhythm of French life. Slotting into the later, more flexible hours is not always possible, particularly with a baby, but where we can, we are enjoying it.
One such opportunity was when friends came over for lunch last Wednesday. The boys were (unusually) at school as they would have Thursday and Friday off for the public holiday weekend, but we were able to make full use of their two hour lunch break for the first time since we arrived. As Ollie remarked ‘lunch took up an awful lot of time today’! Continue reading