S03, Episode 3: France
Vive la France!
(Sorry this episode was a little late, we had a family funeral.)
Hérépain is a sleepy village 60 km from Montpelier, nestled against the rolling hills of the Haut Languedoc Natural Park. Not as obviously picturesque as your postcard Provençal fancies but it has its charms. Wonderful walks along reclaimed railways, forest meanderings to hilltop chapels, patisserie to die for and a stunning local rosé.
'Bonjour... on est arrivé?'
'We haven't left Edinburgh yet, Lily!'
'Bon, bon, boon...orivano!' Daisy creates a mixture of French, Italian and Daisy-ish.
5 am on a frosty October morning herding excited children onto an airport bus pre-coffee is, frankly, not what I signed up for! How I long for a nanny.
'Mum, when's breakfast?' Lily is a walking stomach. To be fair she lost any food she did have on the way. A quick swerve to the hard shoulder and our luggage was saved from a smearing of child sick. Always a delight when one is trying to convey an impression of sophisticated elegance as we waft through the airport.
Not that flying a well-known Irish carrier is the epitome of elegance but mercifully the flight is so empty we have ample seating options. Ross and I surreptitiously separate ourselves a few rows away from the girls. Having been furnished with ample coffees in the airport I feel almost ready for a breakfast G&T. Then I remember we have car hire, rural French roads and a tiny cottage in a remote village to get to post-flight. A fuzzy, dehydrated brain would not be ideal.
The cottage is tucked down an alley, through a courtyard and under an arch. Nudging into its tiny setting between bigger, blousier buildings that are bedecked with shutters and flowers. Our temporary home for the next week invites us to squeeze out of the bright sunshine into a cool, dark and perfectly proportioned room.
No sooner are we unpacked than we are off in search of food and of course, wine. The local town a few km away is a 13th-century spa packed with elderly couples strolling and enjoying ‘taking the waters’.
‘Does that mean they pee in the pools?!’ Asks Lily in loud voice. I pray the locals’ English is nonexistent.
‘Perhaps you should try the water for your leg,’ suggests Ross.
‘Yuck! Mum’s going to swim in the pee water!’…
Turns out copious amounts of local wine and warmth seem to be helping the pain. Because with two children it certainly isn’t the rest and relaxation aspect of this holiday that’s doing me good! For such small things, they fill the cottage with noise, chaos and endless questions… I shouldn’t be such a grump. We’re on holiday after all!
I love to travel and this rustic corner of France is right up my street. We haven’t had a holiday in a long time. Food, wine and French joie de vivre are soothing our tired souls. The girls are jubilant, Ross seems relaxed and in his element. But my mood is mixed.
The marriage years, the toddler years and the doing it on my own years have built a hesitancy in letting go, a caution about relaxation. Backed by the conditioning that living with a controlling and unpredictable husband brought. Post marriage I haven’t allowed myself to relax because what if I just said:
‘You know what? This is too hard, I’m tired and not very good. Fuck. IT.’ Packed my bags and left. End of.
I’d be lying if I didn’t think this at least a hundred billion times every day. Every single day I wonder am I up to the job? What if the kids turn out to be psychotic killers? Or worse, accountants?
To be fair Lily definitely shows ‘signs’ of killer tendencies.
And what about the other bits? You know, where I am a loving, supportive and not too nutty a partner for Ross? He seems to be happy. But then I seemed to be happy in my marriage and look how that ended.
I am afraid to let go. I know the destructive force of this approach. I know that Ross gets frustrated at my inability to believe he wants to be with me. I mean, I have no trouble accepting he wants to be with the girls…they’re cute. But me? A woman who jumps at her own reflection, a woman who is more at home in the African mud than in a house in the suburbs. A woman who brutally cut off her ex-husband, her best friend, and sleeps with her passport under her pillow. Just. In. Case.
I don’t know how to stop the catastrophic thinking; I only know how to pack up and start fresh. I was trained by the best. But I’m not convinced that this skill set is considered a virtue in building lasting relationships and stability.
We are exploring a tiny hilltop Chapelle. Shafts of coloured sunlight spot the uneven flagstones through miniature stained windows. A small niche holds treasured offerings overlooked by a solemn wooden Madonna in faded blue. A slight breath of incense lingers here, as does the ancient echo of prayer. I feel tension and worries slip from me. I take a deep breath, I always was more at peace among the Catholics. Suddenly the chapel is filled with the sound of an angel. A clear heart-lifting song pierces the air and brings the room into life.
Wolf-devil she may be but when she sings grace descends.
Out in the bright sun, I find my cheeks wet. Ross hugs me, I sense his gentle enquiry. Arg. I begin to chastise myself for being emotional and soft. I mean, really! Not only has he got a paranoid woman but now she snivels. Mascara darkens my hand as rub the weakness away. Oh, bugger.
Daisy hands me a horse chestnut conker.
I hold its smooth, brown goodness in my hand. It gives me back the moment of peace I felt in the chapel. Yes, peace. That is what is missing in my life, in myself. Inside I have lost my peace.
I resolve to begin to make peace with the past. OK maybe not all of it, yet. And not all at once. But let’s try making peace with why Ross would ever want to be with me… Is it ultimately my responsibility? Can I do anything about it? Not really.
Right, can I allow myself to simply enjoy what is? Right now?
I can try.
‘Muuuummmmmmmmm’ Lily howls ‘Daisy threw a conker at me!’
I take the conker in my hand and gently throw it to Daisy who catches it and hurls it at her sister, cackling hysterically. Then it’s a free for all. I imagine even the squirrels were taking cover during the Great Chestnut battle of Saint-Michel de Mourcairol.
We stumbled and laugh our way down the steep hillside, pockets stuffed with chestnuts. The sunlit trees are ablaze with Autumnal colours, there is a tang of cool in the air and we speed up to stay warm. A dinner of wild rabbit, field mushrooms and good red wine await…
Finally, I begin to relax.
You can see some photos here of the chapel.