We made it to February 5, our day of departure, and against all odds we were ready. Busy until the very last minute and with the pressure of being the only responsible parent, I had no time on that last day to give in to excessive emotion. The children on the other hand cried through the morning, again on the bus home from school and as I turned the key for the last time in our beautiful old wooden door before hiding it under the stone in the corner of the garden bed near the barren wisteria, and taking my seat in the car. This time our suitcases, like us, were well-travelled and worn; this time the excitement of our departure four years previously had been replaced by a dullness, and this time, it was not the rain but the snow, which had stopped falling to make possible our departure, which started falling in earnest the next day. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')
It is hard to believe that five whole years have passed since our return to Australia. I look at the photos of the castle above, as we looked at them every day and in all seasons from our balcony in France, and the emotion is still there. I was weary, exhausted actually, from packing up a whole house, three children...our entire French lives. Some items, I sold on the French equivalent of eBay, le bon coin, some things I gave away, I sorted and packed boxes and boxes to be shipped back to Australia, our travel suitcases had to be carefully packed to include items that we would need immediately upon return, utilities had to be cancelled, the house had to be cleaned, friends had to be farewelled and normal everyday cooking, shopping, washing and mothering had to be fitted in, too.
We arrived back early in the morning to a hot summer's day. On the other side of the world, we had been suitably dressed in jeans, jumpers, thick coats and scarves but sweltered uncomfortably through the long customs queues in Sydney. Fragile and smelling less than desirable, we emerged into the Australian sun where underneath the animated chatter of our reunion with my husband we were silenced by the different light intensity and the sounds and smells that were no longer familiar.
The following day, I ventured into an Australian supermarket feeling lost and decidedly out-of-place. I wandered aimlessly picking up, putting down and picking up again a packet of Hot Cross Buns from the shelves, needing the comfort of my favourite bun despite wanting to resist the judiciously placed display for an Easter still far away. To these I added a few items that I thought I could use for making up the long-forgotten-about school lunch boxes, wincing at the copious layers of wrapping that enveloped all of the easy morning options. That was enough, I had to leave. Passing through the checkout, I realized that I only had one little foldable bag with me, a grabbed souvenir from the roadside throwaways on the Tour de France and apologized to the male cashier as I was trying to squash everything into it as quickly as I could. He looked at me and asked kindly if I was ok packing my own bags. For a brief moment, I had no idea what he was talking about and then realized that that was no longer how things were done. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')
For many of you who have been following our adventures through this blog, or who have read our story, you will know that the adventure did continue. But, in both directions, I still make mistakes. It takes time before I remember to take our re-usable bags to the supermarket when we return to France, to say 'bonjour' before beginning a conversation, to find the right words once everything is properly back in French, to anticipate the shops shutting at lunchtime, or to hop into the driver's seat on the right side of the car in order to remain on the right side of the road. Despite the passing years, the emotion is still strong. Our last week in France is always hard, as I countdown not only all the jobs that need to be done to restore our house to perfect holiday rental conditions, but the days left to savour morning walks to the bakery, throwing open the shutters to greet the day and the mountains, unashamedly sitting idly by the window watching the snow fall, anticipating the treasures that I will find (not necessarily buy) at the permanent second-hand stores, perusing the lunchtime set menus and knowing that there is no need to schedule further afternoon activities, catching up with old friends, walking and skiing amidst the grandeur of nature...
To finish, let me share some village news. Jean Sulpice, head chef and owner at Le Père Bise in Talloires has just been awarded two Michelin stars, which is another excellent reason to visit our special place in France. Click here to read the full article from L'Express
Or, as always, if you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame' please don't hesitate to contact me on email@example.com or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.