From the time I could consciously imagine my future and conceive of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I envisioned a big old three-storey house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. My closest neighbour would be at least a kilometre away and I would spend my days writing, looking at the grand vista that was to be the Atlantic — rough and cold, isolating and vast. I would need no one, drive my vintage Volvo an hour to the closest town and be the woman who lived alone on the hill. Small children would find their way onto my property through the woods surrounding my home while on their adventures. Those who were brave enough would ring the doorbell and wait for me to make my way down from my study in the attic.
Naturally I would welcome them into the kitchen through the back door and offer them lemonade. They would tell me about their adventures and I would reminisce about mine. Eventually, as they grew older, we would have tea and when they came back to visit their family after they had moved “away” they would drop in to catch-up. When I grew too old to drive my car and the stairs of my home became too much for my age-addled knees I would hire a private nurse and live out my days in my home. And when I died I would entrust my nurse, with whom I had grown quite close, to scatter my ashes into the wind and out to sea.
The problem? I don’t like the country. And I don’t like water.
My first experiment living outside the city as an adult ended in failure. Not so much for me since I couldn’t run from rural Nova Scotia fast enough. But for my wife, who longed to grow old with the sound of the ocean, having to leave was like dying a little inside. Experiment number two was only slightly more bearable since I commuted into Toronto everyday and sleeping in the kind of silence only the country can provide was often welcome. That attempt lasted one month shy of a year.
According to astrology I should be way more “one” with the outdoors, love nature and yearn to be in the fresh open air every possible waking moment. And I do. Just on a patio with a vodka soda and a cigarette.
The truth is, I love the idea of camping but hate the reality of sleeping in dirt. And more than I want a garden, I want a gardener. I am a big city girl.
Which is why the upcoming weeks in the south of France will be a test of wills. In order to make it to Paris alive I will need to adhere to some basic principles to help me keep my head above water.
Remember that when locals look at you like you are an outsider, it’s because you are one.
Despite the fact that most travellers want to be taken for a resident of wherever they are visiting, be able to navigate the customs and pass as a long lost neighbour, the truth is, it’s impossible. You don’t dress like them, look like them or sound anything like them. In a small town you may as well wear a badge that says, “I’m not from here. Feel free to stare,” because they will. As a butch-femme lesbian couple it’s sometimes easy to think that they’re taking a little longer with their head-to-toe once over, to figure out if my wife is a man or a woman, but in a small town every farmer’s wife is a little bit plaid and it’s just ’cause they’ve never seen the likes of you before.
Making a list is golden. Forgetting something can ruin your day.
The apartment that we will be staying in is situated in a town with one grocer, one “corner store” and a gas station. In order to take advantage of French markets and cooking locally grown produce we will need to walk 20 minutes into the nearest town. Since we have been away we walk an average of 50 kilometres a week so the trek is nothing, but the possibility of waking up to no milk for coffee sends me into a panic of epic proportions. The key? Invest in a cow. Or, more realistically, stock up on the things that help you stay sane. Coffee, cigarettes, carrots and chocolate.
Devise a calming mantra for those days when the silence threatens to compromise your sanity.
I am sure that calming thoughts and phrases are supposed to be short and sweet. Concise. Empowering. But since all I got is time, I’ve taken some “poetic license” and come up with something I think will see me through my darkest days. “Fresh air is good for you even if it doesn’t involve table service.”
Remember that a chance to sit and stare at the mountains for hours on end does not come everyday, although it will feel like it.
It’s hard sometimes to remember that my whole life is not endless days with no real direction and that before I know it I will back in Toronto, leaving before the sun rises to make it to work on time. I will read and write, cook and hike and breathe in as much fresh fall air as I can.
‘Cause a chance like this doesn’t happen very often. At least not for another few years.