How to live a simpler life? Slower? More Zen-like? In a place with good food and wine and lots of sunshine?
We are globetrotters, my man and I. After living the expat life in over a half dozen developing countries because of my husband’s work as a development agri- economist, we had to decide where to retire. Not in my home country the Netherlands. I hadn’t lived there since I was 23, and although I love visiting, I don’t love the wet, windy, misty cold winters. Not in the USA, my husband’s home country. I lived there as well for a long time, but after we’d both been gone from there so many years, we didn’t fit in anymore. We tried.
So we went on a quest. We spent time in Italy, visited Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica, Ecuador. But for one reason or another, we decided against these interesting places.
So, where to retire and live a simpler life? Slower, more Zen-like?
We came up with an answer:
We moved to a tiny French village, my prince and I. We found it after we visited friends in the south of France and decided to spend some time scouting out the area where they lived.
It’s straight out of the movies, this village: It has an ancient church, a ruin of a castle, a small grocery store, a post office, a bar/coffee shop and five wineries. And just minutes down the road a small Medieval town with shops, restaurants and a fabulous open market every week. All that’s necessary for a simple, relaxing life.
So this is what happened:
We bought a house, a car, and conquered the necessary bureaucratic paperwork. Then we decided to do some renovation to “refresh” our small house. Break out a little wall, put in a new shower, some new tiles, a new floor, rip off the ugly wall paper. You know how it goes.
What were we thinking?
The pounding, the hammering, the sawing, the noise! Where was the peace? The quiet? The house was covered in dust. We had a rotten wall, a leaky roof, mystery wires, dead switches. Oh, the work! Fortunately we had help.
When that job was finished, we decided to invite the French neighbors in our little street for an apéro, which means drinks and appetizers. We wanted to be nice, to be friendly. I wrote invitations, in French, stuck them in the mail boxes.
We cleaned the house to get ready for the event. The dust from breaking down the interior wall and sanding down endless wallboard was everywhere– in every nook and cranny. We swept and mopped and sweated.
What were we thinking?
What had happened to the relaxing life I had envisioned? Sitting by the pool? Sipping a glass of rosé. Reading a book?
In preparation for the party, we visited several local wineries and taste-tested various wines. This is a lovely way to spend a little time here or there, and it’s what we do on occasion. It puts me right into a Zen-like mood. Okay, maybe not Zen-like, but something like it.
We bought what we liked, and hoped our choices would meet with the approval of our French neighbors. As you know, all French people are wine experts (not). We also bought a bottle of pastis. A must-have we were told.
Then I set about fixing appetizers. I bought goat cheese, made my own wild fig preserves, baked blue-cheese crackers, made hummus, cut cantaloupe cubes and stuck twirls of prosciutto on them, and so on and so forth. No air-conditioning in the house, so I sweated and suffered.
What was I thinking?
I was a wreck. What if they all showed up? All 15 of them? Would they bring the kids? Our French was minimal. We often hadn’t a clue what people were saying to us. What were we going to do with 15 French-speaking people in our house?
I closed my eyes and tried to breathe a calming, Zen-like breath.