I guess you're probably thinking that, just because Pope and I are retired and traveling in France, we are exempt from such day-to-day responsibilities? Relaxed and happy, all smiles as we roam the continent? I wish I could glow with enthusiasm and swear to you: "We are having a blast!" In fact, the grass is green but has plenty of brown spots.
Every day I am challenged with researching transportation and places to stay, struggling with maps and travel guides, stumbling over language, second-guessing the weather, failing to figure out the complexities of France's opening and closing times, yearning to wash clothes, and wondering where on earth we can find all that fine French food we had heard so much about. Some days, there are a few hours left over for sightseeing. I haven't found time for exercising and, as you can see, rarely get around to blogging.
Take today, for example. Yesterday we moved from a stuffy studio in the city (which Pope called our "cave") to a larger gite (self-catering apartment) in an old stone house. We are just outside of the tiny hamlet of St Nathalene in the Dordogne River area of France. Our section of the building is the old bakehouse, nicely renovated and minus its oven, but with thick stone walls that retain the chill, necessitating a sweater all day and down comforter at night, even on sunny days in late spring.
You could die from loneliness in this country--if you didn't starve first!
So early this morning we dragged ourselves out from under our cozy comforter, bleary-eyed from lack of food and sleep, because the pantry was empty and the refrigerator bare. We needed to return to the city of Sarlat-la-Caneda for the weekly market. We are reduced to cooking at home! Well, at least our kitchen is attractive.
I waited for him a while, then gave up and forced my way through the enormous crowds blocking my path (school was out for a holiday, and half of the families in France descended on the Dordogne valley) to gather necessities: potatoes and eggplant and strawberries. Returned to the meeting place, waited another hour. No Pope. No cell phone. No way to find out if he was searching for me in the market or detained by the gendarmerie for running over a Frenchman with the rental car, struggling with language and lack of documentation, which was all in my backpack. Anxiety crept up my spine and edged me toward the brink of hysteria.
After another half hour, success! A familiar face in the crowd. Just in the nick of time before I collapsed in tears at the tourist information desk, begging for help in finding a missing person. He had been unable to find me among the crowds of holiday-makers.
By mid-afternoon, having survived the roads, the crowds, and three attempts to use a credit card to gas up the car--on the fourth attempt we gave up and paid cash--we limped home for a simple and barely sufficient lunch on our patio of bread, cheese, and olives.
A typical day of missed opportunities! We had to make do with a lovely but lonely walk around the fields, dodging dogs and tractors, consoling ourselves with collecting a few wildflowers for our table.
In dread of the sure-to-be chaos of planning for the next two months, I curled up in a fetal position in a corner of the sofa, shutting out faith and hope. In a valiant effort to console me, Pope patted my hand and trotted off to the kitchen to prepare a panful of tasty vegetables for roasting. And then he tried valiantly, and vainly, for an hour to light the strange and stubborn gas oven.
By 9 pm, with our satisfaction with "our life" in France rapidly deteriorating, we heaved a heavy sigh, gave up, and prepared a cold salad, reminiscing fondly on our simple life back home. Our clothes dryer. Our community garden. Our friends. Hopping onto Metro to get across town. Spaghetti dinners at our dining room table, and a 7-11 nearby if we run out of milk.
And that was before it started raining. We never got to use the nice patio again. We never got to go kayaking--one of our purposes in coming to Dordogne.
Dear friends, don't bother with envy or yearning. Sip your coffee, say good morning to colleagues, take a walk at lunch. Count your blessings when the bus comes on time or an old friend stops by. Whip out your cell phone to send a text and check the weather, and spare a moment of sympathy for your friends all alone out in the middle of nowheresville, France, struggling to get through the day, buy bread, and find a decent place to sleep!