VANCOUVER, Canada—It’s 3am in the morning. It’s the third day in a row. I’m home from France and, yes, I have jet-lag.
It’s still dark outside. As usual, I notice how quiet it is here—even the Skytrain is not running this early in the morning. What do I do? Read, run, work? Sip tea and think and write.
I’m glad to be home and that disorients me. In the past, I’ve experienced what I call post-vacation-stress-syndrome. Am I changing, or is it that I’m happier with “Home” now?
Do I need more home with its objects and rituals? Am I becoming less of a traveller? I reassure myself that I’m now a different type of traveller—I adventure “deep, not wide.” Rather than roll through a place, I choose a a home base and ride around it. I do daily rides in different directions to discover its nuances.
But is that the truth? Perhaps I’m just getting old and lazy.
When I rode PH’s bike on the rural backroads of southwestern France, it was like crack cocaine. I loved it.
When it came time to leave, I helped Ian hoist the green bike up to the attic to store it, I felt solid, complete, grateful. The bike would stay in France. With PH.
And now PH’s bicycle rests on the European continent, safe and secure and far away from my own North American continent. I find this thought exciting: I now have a bike in Europe! I can now fly there anytime I want and do it again! Next time, I can bring panniers and gear and keep going—in France, in Europe, in Asia. Who knows?
Next time, maybe I’ll start by riding into Paris. I’ll haul PH’s green cyclocross onto the smooth, Seine cobblestones that Audrey stood on. As a painter looks on, I might rest the bike on its kickstand, stand by the river’s edge, spread out my arms, and give a shout—I’m free!
When I’m done, I might walk the bike to a nearby sidewalk café and sit myself down to a croissant with butter, and a glass of wine. Perhaps a glass of cardbordeaux.
“Christmas in Lauzun is wonderful,” Ian told me before he and Sue left for their road trip. “There’s lights, festivities, carolling, and wine—lots of wine.”
I was in their chateau looking after their cat Friday while they road-tripped through Spain and Portugal. Ian and Sue were scheduled to return on December 17 and they had kindly offered to continue hosting me so I could experience a Christmas in Lauzun.
It started with a SSAFA evening in the nearby village of Castillonnès. Neighbours Martin and Tess sang in a local choral group, and asked if I’d like to join them for carolling, mulled wine, and mince tarts at the community hall.
I learned that SSAFA stood for Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Families Association, a British organisation that fund-raises for British armed forces families in need. Apparently there were so many Brits retired in France that SSAFA expanded here, with 60 aid workers providing support throughout the country.
This evening’s affair was the village’s eleventh annual Christmas event. It was a full and beautifully-organized affair with musicians, a guest vocalist, Christmas songs in both English and French, and readings from the Bible.
A few days later my Christmas turned “blue” when my computer’s failing hard drive presented me with the Blue Screen of Death. I had the name of a computer tech in the nearby village of Eymet so I packed the computer into my bike bag and cycled there to get it repaired.
It was market day, and Clementine oranges were ready for Christmas stockings.
Later that day, Alan, Vera, and William picked me up to drive to the nearby village of Monteton. I had met Vera over Kir (a cassis and white wine apéritif) at the Café des Sports a few days earlier. When she asked if I’d like to join them for a Christmas church service including carolling, mulled wine, and mince tarts. I eagerly accepted.
The Monteton church perches on a hill top, so the views of the surrounding pastures, as well as the church’s silhouette, was stunning.
Inside, I experienced my first Anglican Christmas service (I was brought up Roman Catholic). In the readings, I was very surprised to hear that Joseph chose not to “divorce” Mary when he learned that she was pregnant.
I also discovered that many of the carols I knew as a Canadian had different melodies and words here in Anglo-France. In “Come, All Ye Faithful,” for example, I was a little shocked to hear, “Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb!”
I had joined Carol Barkley’s beginners’ Pilates class soon after I arrived in Lauzun. It being Christmas, Carol emailed us to request that we dress festively, as there would be a little bubbly after class.
Fueled by the Christmas spirit, Ros and I headed to the Cafe des Sport for an early-afternoon Kir Royal (a cassis and champagne apéritif) and greeted Lauzun councillor Jean-Paul who was painstakingly decorating street Christmas trees with styrofoam ornaments.
The next evening, Martin and Tess asked if I’d like to join them for a Catholic service with carolling and mulled wine at the church back in Eymet. They cautioned that I’d need to find a ride as they’d be going over early, and so Alan and his neighbour Jan stepped forward, on the condition that we’d skip the mass.
It was a good crowd, mostly British (someone told me almost 40 percent of Eymet’s population was from the UK), and I was again mortified to hear that Christ abhorred not the Virgin’s womb. I did not see any mince tarts, but I did notice that Le Pub Gambetta across the square offered a café et mince tarte for 5 Euros.
I found myself wondering what French people do for Christmas here in France. Someone heard that they ate oysters and drank champagne. Someone else said they don’t sing songs. I wondered if I’d find out.
Ian and Sue arrived back from their road trip on December 17.
A few days later Paula set herself up in Sue’s kitchen to cut and colour our hair. It turned out to be a riotous event, with Maggie showing up to wash her hair with dish soap in the kitchen sink, and then Sandy lugging a frozen turkey.
Sandy said she didn’t need a haircut, but she did need somewhere to store a turkey. While Paula worked away, Sandy and Sue struggled to fit the turkey in the drawer of Sue’s compact freezer. The turkey won: Sandy made a phone call to Ros who agreed to store it in her freezer so long as everyone remembered it was there.
The turkey was in fact Maggie’s. A former caterer, Maggie would be hosting Christmas feast this year, and this turkey would be feeding 16 friends and neighbours for a multi-course, sit-down dinner accompanied by Champagne.
In preparation, Sue, Ian, and I cycled to Issigeac to shop at their Saturday market. The village has existed since Roman times, and the market for almost that long.
Sue bought seasonal root vegetables for the Christmas dinner: potatoes, carrots, and swedes (rutabagas) the size of babies’ heads—at about 6 LB each.
Christmas eve, Sue cooked up a traditional French-Canadian dish, tourtière, which we enjoyed with Champagne, of course. The next day, all 16 of us assembled at Maggie’s place for a feast of turkey, vegetables (eight of them, when I last counted), wine, Champagne, mince tarts, plum pudding, and various liquors.
Christmas dinner was a beautiful time for me as a visitor. I was surrounded by lovely, lively people who I’d met over the past two months and who had welcomed me into their lives. I felt very grateful to be there.
The village of Lauzun was quiet for the next few days as everyone took time to connect with their families—over a meal or over Skype. I was away from my home of Vancouver, Canada, and yet I felt very much at home—fed, comforted, included, and accepted.
On the main street of the tiny French village of Lauzun, all was calm, all was bright.
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I received an early Christmas present this year: a warning.
It came in the form of a Blue Screen of Death (BSoD), an onscreen message from my Toshiba laptop telling me that something was very, very wrong.
Luckily, I’d had a coffee with Alan, a Lauzun neighbour who had earlier introduced me to Andy Barber of MCD Informatique—a computer tech/photograher in the nearby village of Eymet.
I slipped the 17-inch laptop into my bicycle pannier bag, cycled the eight kilometres to Eymet, locked the bike and handed the computer to Andy. I also shared with him the carefully-recorded code numbers I’d seen on the blue screen, as well as a photo I’d taken of a subsequent error message after I force-restarted the Toshiba.
Standing in Andy’s shop listening to him tell me how he’d locate a new hard drive, clone the data over from the old drive, and aim to keep all my data, settings, and software intact, I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me.
Odd gratitude is a feeling fellow travellers can relate to: the realization that—when something really bad happens on the road—it could have been much, much worse.
I could have received no warning message whatsoever from my laptop. I might not have met Alan, who not only had the name of a tech, but was willing to drive me there. The computer tech might have been unavailable, incompetent, or incomprehensible. A replacement hard drive night not have been available. The cloning process might have been unsuccessful. The cost might have been prohibitive. The weather might have been crap.
Instead, for the cost of a new HD, Andy’s effort, and a couple of sunny, countryside, bicycle rides between two gorgeous, medieval villages; I have a fully-restored laptop computer.
I write this December 27 and I know I have a backlog of post-BSoD blog posts to share: Christmas lights, caroling fests, bike rides, and snapshots of gorgeous French countryside. But for now, I just to share my odd, visitor’s gratitude.
Art, cycling, history, and a new biking buddy. Not bad for a Monday afternoon.
Before she left, my host Sue suggested I meet Mimi. “She’s a writer and blogger, she rides a bicycle, and she’s from North America, like us!” Mimi used to live in California, but she and her husband now stay here in the village of Lauzun.
The forecast for Monday was mild and sunny so on a whim, I phoned Mimi to ask if she felt like a pedal to the village of Serignac-Reboudou, 8 kilometres away.
Mimi’s lived in Lauzun for four years and she shares her enthusiasm for the region in a blog called Lot of Livin’. She told me she tries to shine a light on events in different villages in the Lot-et-Garonne region of France. Mimi also told me that the blog’s parent site, AngloInfo.com, is a global resource for Anglos seeking nuts-and-bolts information about building a new life in another country.
As we approached the village, I was able to take a close look at a persimmon tree. These trees are bare except for their huge burdens of bright, orange fruit. This one reminded me of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
At the village’s centre, we discovered a newly-painted mural. A neighbour told us it was done by local artists, and portrayed various aspects of the local culture: the agriculture, farming, church.
Both of us were quite taken by the beautiful cow.
I was intrigued by the vertically-mounted sun dial, and promised myself I’d ask someone about how to read one.
I’d seen signs for Maison Familiale et Rurale and had translated them to mean they were some kind of gîte, or country guest house. I asked Mimi about it and she shook her head and told me that in fact this village of Serignac-Peboudou was the birthplace of a movement to educate rural youth on farming as a profession. According to the Wikipedia.com page (translated from French),
…MFR is an establishment of status of associations that has the objective of training and education for youth and adults, as well as their social integration and professional…
We finished taking photos and rolled out of Serignac-Peboudou, through twisting forests (where Mimi told me she once saw a wild boar), and back into Lauzun in time for the weekly English-French conversation club meeting at the Floc ‘n’ Tea cafe.
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What do pigeons and turkeys have in common? You eat them.
Last month, Lauzun neighbours George and Ros were kind enough to stage my hosts Sue and Ian’s Canadian thanksgiving in France in their back yard. Sue and Ian served turkey and once they’d left for Morocco, I was blessed with ten very meaty turkey bones.
I made a big batch of turkey-and-leek soup and asked George and Ros if they’d be willing to host me if I brought some soup over? The next Tuesday we shared soup, wine, and stories as they filled me in on the village’s perks, quirks, and history.
Since then, we’ve met every week for “Soupy Tuesday” and I learn a little more each time. For example, George and Ros told me that families kept pigeons in pigeonniers (dovecotes) adjoining their houses. They kept them for their meat and eggs, and they’d blend the pigeon dung with straw to insulate the walls.
George and Ros live on a tiny, pebbled laneway called a venelle. Across the venelle another neighbour, Ursula, is renovating a property that had a bicycle shop at the front and a pigeonnier at the back. George offered to take me there for a tour.
Inside the pigeonnier, another neighbour, Martin, was helping Ursula by finishing the windows and walls. He’d added a new frame within the existing timbers and stabilized the walls with new blocks. He grinned that he would not be using the dung-and-straw mixture to insulate the walls of the soon-to-be studio.
Ursula joined us and guided us to the kitchen where the original sink was outdoors so it could drain into the adjoining carreyrou (walkway).
Inside, she showed us a second-floor bedroom that was in its original condition, and then a bedroom that had been renovated.
George and I left Ursula and Martin to their work, and George explained the difference between a venelle and the carreyrou in this Medieval village.
“The venelle is wide enough to pull a wagon through, and the carreyrou is just wide enough to walk along.”
George and I said our good-byes and I agreed to meet him and Ros again next Tuesday. I had a couple of squash to get creative with, so I figured I’d make a golden, curried soup as a remedy to the cool, December evening.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day is marked in France on the third Thursday in November with fireworks, music and festivals. Under French law, the wine is released at 12:01 a.m., just weeks after the wine’s grapes have been harvested. — beaujolaisnouveauday.com
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It’s Thanksgiving weekend in America. In Canada, Thanksgiving was in October. In France, Ian and Sue’s thanksgiving was a few weeks ago.
I’d arrived at the French village of Lauzun at the beginning of November. It was warm and sunny and once my hosts had settled me in, fed me pastries, shown me cycling routes, and written out a schedule of social events, they went to work preparing a thank-you “Canadian Thanksgiving” feast for 24 of their friends and neighbours in the village.
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