One remark that is constantly tossed between us all is that we can't quite believe we are in France. It's not that feeling of being overwhelmed by your luck or being awed by your surroundings (which we are very much aware of) but rather that we somehow just landed here and here we are. No real passage of distance or time occurred. We are also struck by how much the Perigord Noir looks like Colorado- smells, vegetation, altitude, the air..except everyone speaks French and no one is wearing Prana.
I will back up a bit and begin at our arrival at Les Esparoutis. It is a tiny hameau (hamlet) of several buildings, some owned by the gite's owners, Ian and Ien, but also their 2-3 neighbors. It is set just above the river Ceou ("say-ooo") in the river valley.
This valley (and river) joins up with the mighty Dordogne, which provided a passageway for wine sold to the (royal) Brits long before they bought up everything in sight here for vacation homes. All the buildings in the area are made of the same honey-colored Perigordian limestone, with red tile roofs surrounded by modest gardens and tiny vineyards, really thrown up where ever there is a few meters square. Here, in Esparoutis, we are staying in the Gite, which is bordered on one side by a small outdoor patio and accompanying orange striped tabby cat (with whom I made friends by pretending not to care the least), a garden and then a short gravel drive with a long limestone barn. One the other side of the property sits the sechoir, originally built for drying the copious walnuts growing just to the side (secher=to dry). This is where the owners are staying and they call it "the Nut House".
We got in completely exhausted but exhilarated, made our meager meal of the grocery list below and then proceeded to stay up extremely late because our bodies had no idea what just happened. Ian thought he might have to call an ambulance when he realized there was no movement the next day until after one pm, when we finally awoke. Well, half the day was gone before we managed to leave, but leave to Sarlat, the famous market town of the region, we did.
We happened to land in France on a national holiday ( I have still not determined the name or purpose...) which, because it occurred on a Thursday this year, resulted in a pont, or a bridge, to the weekend, which means Friday is a wash as far as work is concerned. This meant that Sarlat was insane, although not nearly as insane as the July-August influx of all the Europeans and many Americans on vacation. We crawled in to town and into a huge fois gras festival, where all the local vendors were hawking their specialties accompanied by a loud speaker (think county fair) and bad music from the 80s/90s. I can and cannot believe this is still going on as it was when I came here 20 years ago. Maybe (ahem, not maybe) French pop music is rather inferior to bad American pop. Very strange to be wandering the winding medieval streets of a beautiful village with _________ playing.
We ended up buying some local salami (taureau/beef, porc and epice/spicy) using some patched together language, of which the vendor merrily took part. He warned us that this must not go in the "frig". I thought he was speaking French and couldn't understand, ditto for Jason and it was finally, Ruby who understood that he was actually speaking English but kind of guessing at the word.
Here is a note on language:
For me personally, it is of the utmost satisfaction to be speaking in French again. It feels as though I am speaking English and feel no fear whatsoever in diving into conversations or requests. This is a dramatic contrast from the last years of being paralyzed by Polish in Poland and now tentatively taking steps with Arabic. It is a pleasure that really can't be quantified. For his part, Jason is fearless- something you rarely see in a beginner. He just walks right up and says whatever he can in French and mimes the rest and pretty much gets what he wants. To our great humor and slight embarrassment, he waves and calls, "Bonjour!" to people when we stop for them to cross a road. They hurry on, trying not to look at the lunatiques Americains in the car. Ruby and Henry are adding one word a day. They both manage a "bonjour, merci or au revoir". We will go to the market in St. Cyprien tomorrow, and they will have a chance to buy things and thus speak (well, they will be forced to by their mother).
There were a few questions:
driving occurs on the same side of the road as the US. We are beginning to understand that everyone in France drives like Julie and they understand that there are times when you have to yield the center of the narrow road and let the oncoming traffic have their side, also just like Julie. And, yes, we all fit in the car! I wish we owned it. It is like driving a Subaru Outback with extra seats.
The rest of our afternoon was spent at a giant grocery store (Carrefour) after which we loaded our trunk with individual grocery items because we didn't know about bringing your own bags. Arriving home, we immediately began to drink wine, feeling the day winding around us and stomping on our heads. We dined on roasted chicken with white beans, prosciutto and leeks with mache salad and baguette on the side. All of a sudden it was 11 pm and Mossy and Cormac still ran around like it was 4 pm (which it was as well). The rest of the evening was spent in very good conversation with Ian, getting the Australian view of the Bush years, what it's like to renovate, live and visit in France and all about archaeology (he is an archaeologist), so those of you who know Jason can image the intensity of the conversation. Ruby and Henry managed to nurse their 12 hours of no internet on their various i-thingys until ungodly hours and stumble off to bed.
So, tomorrow, we will have croissants, bushwhacking and mammoth stories to tell and then it's on to food!
Bonsoir tout le monde!