It’s Been 2 Months of Living in France
A New Chapter: Sacrifices Rewarded
We arrived in France on 16 August. After being married to someone who was married to a restaurant, we both desperately longed for “quality of life”. No more setting my alarm late at night to be sure that my husband Olivier has arrived home safely. No more spending Christmas Eve or Valentine’s Day alone. All the work he did put more onto my shoulders. No more reading about the rising crime in our city. Olivier no longer has to work 70 hours a week with that golden carrot dangling in front of him. We had a long-term goal in mind and a lot of sacrifices were made for years but we can now relax and breathe. I have a husband who now cooks delicious meals for me and he wasn’t even the chef of our restaurant! He goes out and brings back croissants from the patisserie and we gaze out at the morning view together.
Don’t get me wrong; life isn’t all gâteau and amour. We have days full of trips to the bank, hospital appointments, translating medications, downloading and filling out forms, etc. And whoever has a child in France knows that trips back and forth to school, and all that having a child involves, especially in a new country, is not always a breezy activity. What I can say is that now I am not walking this path alone and it sure is nice to have some pleasant experiences in between the more busy and mundane ones.
The pace of life in France is slower and definitely quieter in our neighborhood in the countryside. We see hot air balloons almost every morning, floating in the cool, crisp air. We have a view overlooking the town on Annonay, where the Montgolfiere brothers invented the “Montgolfiere” or hot air balloon. It’s just a magical way to wake up.
Uninvited Guests: French Pharmacy to the Rescue
For the first year, there have been mosquitos in this region, which isn’t the norm. Absence of those pests is something that I always loved about spending time here but the weather is warmer than usual and the mosquitos seem to thrive in this type of climate.
We were armed and ready with our citronella spray to keep those pests away and to ease itching, we have our little Dapis essential oil stick made by the French homeopathic company, Boiron. More often than not, pharmacists will give an herbal remedy for any variety of complaints. I really welcome it! I think the only time I would experience this type of thing in the USA would be in a health food store.
Preparing for the Cold
Snow tires are required during the winter and SUVs are a common sight. On a clear day, we can see Mont Blanc and my husband can’t wait to ski in the Alps (I’ll spend time doing yoga, drinking wine, and eating fondue).
It was 27 C a week ago but the weather is already starting to cool off. We have radiant floor heating on the lower level of the house but the upstairs has a fireplace that uses wood pellets. We were warned by some friends to stock up early so that we don’t literally get left in the cold. There are home improvement shops that sell large bags of pellets and also facilities that specialize in selling large pallets of them.
Omelettes, Chestnuts, and Fresh Farm Food in France
This is a region of extinct volcanos and it’s very hilly with farmland and forests in between the towns and villages. We love to travel over to the little village of Burdignes to the Ferme Auberge Linossier to have lunch and then buy fresh cheese from a farm down the road.
I had the Salade Ardechoise with “kir maison à la châtaigne” (a chestnut kir). Anything that says “Ardechoise” means that it has chestnut in it, as it’s the trademark food in this region. I never thought that I would eat so many chestnuts. My parents used to roast them in our fireplace but I didn’t care for them as a child. Now I order them by choice, out of curiosity, and I think they’re delicious.
My dish came with a salad and an omelette. Here, omelettes are usually served for lunch and never for breakfast. This was a simple omelette with chives and incredibly fluffy and scrumptious.
After lunch, we took a walk to GAEC de la Source, a farm that produces organic cheese. We bought some amazing soft, fresh goat cheese straight from the farmer. We could even see the goats that made our cheese!
French Immersion and Progress
I am grateful that I took over 4 years of French in high school (including a class in 4th grade summer school and a semester in 8th grade). I tried to keep it up as best I could over the years and I know that it helped. Whenever we visited France it was only for three weeks maximum and we would leave just when I felt like I was getting used to the language. Now we’ve been here for two months and I’m already understanding many of the conversations and I’m giving the correct answers when a friend tries to include me. Olivier has a lot of friends and they are all very warm and friendly. I’ve always been made to feel welcome.
We had an all-day party a few weeks ago and I got my fill of French language immersion. It started at noon and ended around 9:00 p.m. We provided plenty of wine, water, and fresh local juices, plus wine that our guests brought. We had cheeses, fruits, and charcuterie, and we also ordered some savory and sweet hors d’oeuvres from a local caterer. We even included some cute mini hamburgers from the well-known frozen food shop, Picard – a little nod to our American life! I can tell you that they really do taste like little cheeseburgers and people loved them.
Half a glass of wine and I was chatting comfortably but with some effort. It was fun to be able to tell some stories about growing up in California and even make some people laugh. Let’s be clear and say that I don’t consider myself fluent at all. I still have to think about what I’m saying and really listen to understand everything. If I am tired, I can just zone out and not understand the conversation. That’s my level at this point. By the end of the night, I was grateful that our friends who arrived later spoke good English because my brain was just about done. I was really proud of myself, though, and it gives me hope that I can make progress.
A Taste of the Rhône Valley
My former employers came to visit us and we took them for a wine tour at Cave de Tain which was very informative and interesting. We were taken into the cellars to learn about the winemaking process and we were given five different wines to taste at the end. The guide gave the tour in French and was able to explain some things in English when our guest asked a question.
We were treated to lunch by our guests at a place that was highly recommended to us by a friend, called Le Vivarais. It’s a fairly unassuming place in the little town of Sarras but all the rave reviews by locals and tourists are definitely well deserved.
If you decide to go to Le Vivarais Hotel Restaurant, be sure to book in advance, and that goes for any dining experience. We used to be able to walk into any restaurant and get a table but that has changed over the years. A visitor might think that because these are small towns and villages set in the countryside they won’t get much business, but believe me when I tell you that people are ready to dine and get their reservations tout de suite. Every single dish was beautiful and created a new taste sensation.
That leads me to add that this is one thing that I love about France – one can live in the countryside but it isn’t the same as living in the countryside in America, where you might not find another town or any restaurant for miles away. Here, you might be driving in the countryside and happen upon a little village that has a restaurant that serves excellent fare that doesn’t break the bank (I’m talking about those nice casual bistros). Remember that most restaurants close at 2:00pm, though, and they might be full. It will be a very rare occurrence if you find one that is open all day. Most of the time, luck can be on your side and there will be a table for you.
That’s all for now from our cozy nest in France.