I am sooooooooo ready to leave France.
I know I have no right to complain, that I lead an enviable, dreamlike life of leisure. This was all true, until we came to France. Well, since then, let me tell you, we have been paying the piper.
When Bruno and I decided to hasten from southern Spain to southern France back in late March, it was with two goals in mind: to prepare ourselves for our next phase of travel (which, since we want to upgrade our home-on-wheels, involved an arduous process of obtaining a truck driver’s license which I described here), and to ready our home-on-the-beach for seasonal rental.
I didn’t realize how much work the house-stuff would entail – I’ve never been a home-owner before. Boy, was I in for a treat.
First, we tackled the renovations. There were the walls to wash and patch, the building of our new outdoor sea-view balcony to oversee, as well as a cement wall in front of the terrace to block the approaching sand dunes. There was the repair of our sliding garden door and front door lock, the two windows in the mobile home to replace, fissures in the floor tiling to repair, and a bamboo/wood awning to build. We changed the location of the fridge and heaters, and messed around with the electrical connections in the electrical box. Well, Bruno messed around with them.
Then, there were the aesthetic and practical changes and additions to the house. There was the artwork to re-arrange on walls, the purchase and assembly of bunk beds, a kitchen armoire, a cleaning supplies cupboard, and a shelving unit and wardrobe for the second bedroom. We scrubbed melted glue off the door and window frames and repainted them, and had sets of keys order, organized, and color coded. We purchased new used mattresses for the mobile home and sold the old ones, sewed bedroom window curtains, and installed blinds for the front door window.
Outside, we did some massive gardening. There were weeds everywhere and entire sections of the garden that had no surviving plants. We replanted the garden and painstakingly took out the weeds, including along the very long gravel driveway. We stained the outdoor deck wood, and purchased new used plastic chairs for so cheaply it took a full day to scrub them white again. We lugged crates of rocks from Bruno’s parents’ place to ours in order to arrange them into a long empty slot on our terrace, washed the siding of the mobile home, and vacuumed up tons of sand lodged in our fake terrace.
This list is almost certainly incomplete, but it’s the best my fogged-up brain can come up with today. In case you weren’t impressed with the list, remember that for the first six weeks of this work, Bruno was also juggling his truck driver’s license, which is like having a very stressful full-time job. Most of the tasks I was forced to accomplish solo were things I was doing for the very first time in my life, ever.
Plus, because we’d decided to rent our home independently this year rather than through an agency, we needed to put a structure in place that would acquire clients, offer them everything they needed during their stay, and maintain the home between renters. To do this, we spent hours placing rental ads on six different rental websites, which required taking new indoor and outdoor photos of the home, mobile home, and garden that were as professional and clean as possible. We found a trustworthy cleaning lady to clean before each rental group.
And, in order to create a positive guest experience with a personal touch, we created a tourism brochure book of things to do/see in the region (which required me to visit tourist offices in four different towns, without a vehicle), and a welcome envelope for guests. We ordered disposable bed and pillow liners, and organized pillows and blankets for each room. We created a list of safety information and useful emergency numbers, and a pre-arrival letter which included detailed directions to our house and arrival instructions.
This is all above and beyond the everyday care of a home – the cleaning, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the garden weeding… Let me tell you, after this experience living in a house, I’m more convinced than ever that living out of a truck is the only way to live.
Just as Bruno was completing his truck driver’s license and we were finally able to focus our attention on the house renovations (and trying to sell Totoyaya and buy a new vehicle, let’s not forget that!), we received the news that Bruno’s parents had decided to move from their big house near the village of St-Thibéry to their old, smaller family home opposite ours in Le Grau d’Agde. This was happy news, indeed, and something the entire family had been pushing for these past couple of years.
But it also meant we were adding a 3rd goal to our list of things to do in France – help Bruno’s parents move.
Annie, Bruno’s mom, has a house full of things collected from 80 years of her own life, as well as those of a whole whack of deceased relatives. She’s sentimental, so never throws anything away – in other words, she’s a pack rat. Her St-Thibéry home is full (literally so brimming that you can hardly manoeuver around it all) of old wooden furniture from her ancestors, and each drawer of each piece of furniture is filled with clothing, kitchenware, and documents from said ancestors. To top that all off, she’s an avid reader who, in addition to her own massive collection, acquired the book collection of her daughter-in-law’s deceased father a few years ago. Let’s add to all of this her own memorabilia and that of her three children, one of whom is nomadic and has left his own lifetime of belongings in the attic.
Mix in the very energetic and can-do personality of Bruno’s dad, Pierrot, who enthuses that he doesn’t need a moving van or a moving company, that nay, he can do the move himself. What we have ourselves, now, folks, is a massive move for which two aging parents, and two unemployed nomads, will be conducting alone.
For two weeks, we jetted back and forth between Le Grau d’Agde and St-Thibéry, lugging furniture onto their van and offloading it into their new home. Each time we popped over, Annie handed us boxes of things to dispose of. We sifted through years of belongings, choosing pieces to sell on France’s version of Kijiji or Craigslist (called “Le Bon Coin”), bagging up clothes for donation, and bringing other things to a give/take box outside an organic food store in Agde (which, just like the NYC curb on the TV program How I Met Your Mother, made things disappear almost instantly in a consumer-goods Bermuda Triangle).
Annie could have happily continued sifting through memories for months more, as each treasure recovered brought her back to her nostalgic past. With this method progress was inevitably slow, and there was more show-and-tell each time we arrived than actual moving. One day, Pierrot and the brothers decided enough was enough – that they would move into the new house then and there. Pierrot and Annie were in the advantageous situation of still owning their St-Thibéry home while having immediate access to their new/old house in Le Grau (Rémy, Bruno’s brother, inherited it years ago).
So, for two full days we readied ourselves for Moving Day, and on the third day, despite garbage-dump-loads of belongings still in their St-Thibéry home, we moved Annie and Pierrot to Le Grau d’Agde. We set up all the furniture, cleaned the entire house like mad-people, and unpacked their basic necessities.
Since that day, and for the past ten, we visit Annie in the morning to see what she needs (artwork on the walls? furniture moved? items from St-Thibéry?) then drive to the old house to load more belongings destined for the new house/dump/free pile. I feel like we’ve worked so hard – and moved so much stuff – that it’s truly disheartening every time we step foot into their old house and confront the sheer amount of things still left to deal with. Truthfully, we won’t be able to get through it all before Bruno and I leave and we’ll likely have to find someone to come and lug it all away to do with what they want.
The important and marvelous thing is that Pierrot and Annie are now more or less settled in their home. They have 90% of the belongings they want, almost all the furniture placed, and almost all the artwork on the walls.
But all this – the truck driver’s license, the work toward renting our own home, Pierrot and Annie’s move – has come at a price. And that price has been Bruno and my health and happiness. Bruno has been a ball of nerves for two months, running himself ragged all day, being short and snippy (as well as almost totally non-conversational) and collapsing on the sofa at night. I have fared a lot better, still managing to find time to play in the kitchen, exercise, organize social events, and most recently, take advantage of the gorgeous summer weather with a book and a lounge chair.
But two days ago, I hit a wall. All of a sudden, I felt totally bowled over. Such an intense fatigue overtook me that I didn’t even have the energy to communicate. All I wanted to do was lie down and refrain from moving my body.
I don’t know how most people live this kind of life all the time (is this what real life is like??). An entire life can pass you by without you even knowing where the time has gone, without even having stopped to smell the roses. Regular people are brave.
I am not. I’ve gone soft. I just want to jump in Totoyaya and take off toward the horizon. If a few months ago I was dreaming about the comforts of life in a house, that dream is no more. It only took a couple months of work to make me appreciate the luck I’ve got in life and to want it back, at all costs.
So, yes, I am ready to leave France now.
Oh yes, and about taking off in Totoyaya. Yeahhhhhhhh, we haven’t had time to sell her or to buy a new vehicle. Obviously. We managed the first part of the road-worthiness test (called the contrôle technique), giving us the right to drive in France until July 10th. Beyond that, we’ll just have to play things by ear. One problem at a time.