Photos from the year we arrived in France, and my old kitchen window in Cornwall 🙂
So happy. Quietly, undramatically, melodically content.
When we first came to France, on that crazy journey across the watery divide on a dank March morning, our household possessions stacked inside a makeshift cage on a trailer pulled by Jude in his Landy while I followed behind with our crumbly caravan tied to my old white van, silently scoffed at by officials and passersby on both sides of the water and praying both vehicles and cargo would make the trip intact, I never really had a clear view of what the future might hold for us here. I was too busy, holding my post-partum body and brain together, moving forward through each day and each new problem as it arrived. Jude and I, with our four little girls and an aging collie dog, setting off into the unknown together.
And now, three and a half years later, I can honestly say that I am the happiest I have ever been. Ever. Yes, I still occasionally get side-swiped by depression, that heavy psychological heritage that sits deep in my bones, but the bouts are less frequent and those hard days of just containing my despair enough to continue to exist, seem to be fading at last.
I am domestic: I cook and clean without resentment in a way I’ve never known before; actively inhabiting my home, sometimes even with joy at my duties within it, something my feminist-talking, housewifery-hating mother silently taught me to be anathemic to a modern female life. Lately I have discovered new avenues of food-sourcing so I am finally starting to extricate myself from the hated weekly supermarket shop, which makes me feel so much more aligned to my core values. It’s not precisely where I want to be, with my own veg plot and fresh eggs from hens in the garden, but it’s a big step in the right direction for us. And even as it challenges me every week to create more and more of our meals from newly-discovered raw ingredients, the majority of the time I find myself relishing the task I have set myself, even if I do bemoan the lack of English-language cookery books at my disposal.
And I make art! I’m not certain which direction it will take me yet, but I am happy with taking little meanders as I go forward with my creative path. I may even begin to make Art, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that capitalisation, so I feel no real pressure to do so. Whatever I do, I am thrilled to have the mental and physical space to play with ideas and roll them around in my hands until I know how best to use them productively – ie to create an income to supplement Jude’s, whose business is going from strength to strength.
When we told people in England of our plans, nearly everyone made a point of telling us that we’d be back, most likely within three years, regaling us with tales of friends of theirs who’d tried to make it but became too homesick to stay longer. For us, I would say that it has taken three years for us to find our feet here, but we are finally, absolutely in place. And I have no doubt whatsoever that had we not spent the first year living out of suitcases and the second in mobile homes without drinking water on tap or running hot water for bathing, that we would have felt this way far sooner.
Certainly I think back to those first two years with relief that they are behind us. There is a certain frisson of excitement about the little challenges a foreign country can offer a newcomer, from finding food staples to replace familiar home brands and the interesting learning curve as you buy products that turn out to be entirely different to how you expected them to be, to remembering the new little courtesies that are so much a part of daily life here – who to kiss and how many times was a struggle, particularly for Jude! The answer, if you’re male, being don’t do it at all, generally, unless you are related or very close friends and never another man unless you are deliberately inviting intimacy…
But there were – and still are – many obstacle courses that we stumble over, in particular the mountainous piles of paperwork we have to negotiate for health and tax. There are a gazillion weirdly initialed organisations that I still struggle to differentiate between or even remember what they represent – CPAM, RSI, CMS &c. And whilst our understanding of how the bureaucratic system works here has improved so that we take it for granted now that information is never going to offered but that you are quite likely to be given the wrong information if the person you ask happens not to know the answer to your query, which in our first year led us on many a desultory wild goose chase through various offices we had no reason to be in, we at least are a little better now at explaining ourselves and understanding the responses!
But the biggest thing by far I think is that we have found our strength as a family. Jude and I have faced serious challenges that we’ve come through together, that could easily have broken us had we been less committed or in love. And I find my love and admiration for my husband deepening all the time. His stamina, the strength of character that radiates from him, blinding and binding me to him from the moment we met at a friends’ gathering where he persistently tried to ignore me, has never faltered, no matter the obstacle. For one thing, he has stuck by me, this crazy lady who drove him home with her from that party and has been nothing short of a violent tornado in his previously quiet, bachelor existence ever since. I am truly, deeply and forever grateful for his constant, calming presence by my side.
And whatever the future holds, whether we find our forever home as I dream or whether we stay in this wonderful old house we have on loan, I am confident that it is going to be bright and beautiful even with the shadows that will inevitably fall across our paths from time to time. I am proud of the adventure we are on and I know I am in the very best company I could wish for.
A very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year to all my friends and family, may your path be full of sunlight and your shadows long behind you. See you next year!