L’ autre vie “What other life?"
Updated: Jul 27
I realised tonight, as I reclined, potato-like on the couch, (while quietly stalking people on FB and finding an old blog I'd written) that I had, in fact, not written a blog for ages. Literally, ages.
So I thought it’s definitely time to write another. Even in these challenging times I have a story to tell.
I usually ALWAYS have a story but, in these particularly difficult times, I find myself in un-chartered territory.
I've realised that I’m stuck between two worlds. Not quite here nor there. It’s a strange conundrum. Let me explain.
Last year, in November in fact, we had hired a very expensive exhibition stall at the Melbourne French Festival held in the grounds of Como House in Kew. We’ve done this for several years and it’s always been such a delightful way to advertise our French properties but with a very personal touch. Aussies love to meet their future hosts and are often captivated by our story as to how we came to own two French cottages in the Dordogne.
We had a wonderful time at the festival and many people booked their French holidays with us which included the option of personalised tours.
It was to be our BEST year yet after owning the properties for ten years and making very little profit at all. We were excited. This would be a very wonderful, bumper year!
Interestingly, we negotiate the occasional “house swap” annually, (using only our French properties) which does afford us the possibility of escaping Melbourne’s horrid Winter months to warmer climes of Australia, or simply to discover new horizons.
In February this year (which quite honestly feels like two years ago) we travelled to New Zealand and the breathtakingly beautiful area of Motueka overlooking the Tasman Bay, situated in the far north of the South Island;- a house swap in the Aussie Summer, which is unusual for us.
We had three weeks of absolute delight. Thank God we did.
On returning to Melbourne we experienced a very turbulent and scary flight through a storm into Tullamarine airport which, in hindsight, may have been a prophetic insight into the bumpy days to come.
Within 2 weeks we were into our first Covid19 lockdown.
In the days and weeks that followed, not unexpectedly, all of our 2020 French bookings were cancelled, even though some of our prospective guests were SO positive and insistent that they would be able to travel and experience their planned vacations.
Neil and I however, were possibly, more realistic and far less optimistic.
It was a ghastly time for us. I cannot really underscore how horrible it felt.
And I’m not talking primarily about the financial loss here. I’m really talking about people’s dreams being dashed. Put off. Cancelled. Until when?
We had to negotiate so much disappointment and loss. It was truly awful, and it still is.
In the first lockdown the collective climate in Melbourne, as in the rest of Australia, was one of compliant understanding. We were anxious, but hopeful, as we treasured with renewed passion our beautiful local landscape and wildlife, albeit bereft of close friends to visit, family contact and the possibility of travel. We counted ourselves blessed however.
Neil and I knew we had to do something to (at the very least) pay the on costs of owning two properties in France. We had to make adjustments and take a risk.
We focussed our efforts on Airbnb. We made a few changes to our profile to hopefully attract French travellers and holiday makers for the European Summer.
Within days bookings began to trickle in. We were taken aback.
The bookings were primarily from Parisiennes but also from people in the Netherlands and Spain.
Obviously, without the option to travel abroad, the French were looking for rural escapes in their own country
Although the bookings are a fraction of the total we’d originally
taken, and primarily only during August, we were, and are, entirely grateful for them.
And many of you will be thinking how we manage them, given that we cannot travel there and be present personally.
We have, and have always had, Managers available on site.
I can’t even begin to describe how fantastic they are, but I can tell you this. We have an entirely new respect for them since Covid19.
They have had to do SO much more because we are not there. Above and beyond the norm now with the strict Covid19 cleaning and disinfecting guidelines.
Normally, we’re in France twice annually. We Spring clean. Garden. Fix problems. We are there and are very hands on.
However this year, obviously, we are not. This is hard for us.
But, we are thankful for our wonderful Managers who have stepped up to do what must be done in our absence. They’ve been, and continue to be, the best!
So how do we feel? I can’t speak for Neil, but I think I know how he’s feeling. He’s grieving a bit. He’s missing his precious France. He is still so committed to his daily regimen of French lessons in order to improve his language skills. I admire him for that.
I’ve been meandering all over the place emotionally and mentally and for a while I wondered what on earth was the matter.
Then it hit me like train.
I miss my life in France.
Part of my precious life is missing. Absent.
It’s important for me to recognise how much my French life means to me because I’m often caught between the anguish of leaving my beautiful family when I travel but being reunited with our "other" home. I SO miss my granddaughters when I’m away. And now I miss them because of a second enforced lockdown here in Melbourne. Six weeks of ground hog day. Six weeks of separation. Perhaps more. Probably more.
I’ve realised that the freedom to travel is something we have definitely taken for granted. When we do travel, Neil and I come alive in a way that’s palpable, particularly when we’re in our second home:- France.
We have renewed strength and energy and a “Joie de Vivre” that’s just hard to quantify. It keeps us youthful.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for us. Who does?
When something is denied you it suddenly becomes more precious than you could ever imagine. At the moment we can all relate to this in some form or another.
As I write, I’m aware that in the South West of France the sun is coming up. The day will be quite warm and a little humid.
I can smell the earth. The hay will have been cut into bales by now and lazy bumble bees will be flying haphazardly amid the summer array of flowers.
A hawk may appear and swoop down into the freshly mown field to procure its lunch.
The cottages and their surrounds are etched into my mind and I can recall them with surprising ease and accuracy. Every detail.
From the picture window in the little cottage I can imagine the view over the field with the walnut tree in the distance and a few cows nestled beneath it taking advantage of the shade. In the late afternoon the colour of the earth will change to a burnished gold and then to a deeper russet before finally fading. Then starlings will invade the skies and dance in their close knit formations.
People will be out walking in the mornings and also in the cool at dusk, greeting us as they pass. The sun will shed light well into the evening before finally setting at 10 p.m.
Normally the sky is strewn with jet trails but these will be few and far between at the moment.
The sound of happy children holidaying will fill the air as will the occasional brash bray from the local donkey, reminding all that he’s still alive and kicking.
People, everywhere, will be soaking up the sunshine and warmth and basking in it;-drinking it in like a good vintage wine.
Ah. C’est la vie. Vive la France!
Mes pensées et prière: -
Voici un avenir d’espoir et de santé pour nous tous.
Que Dieu bénisse et guérisse ceux qui souffrent actuellement de cette maladie.
Puisse-t-Il renforcer ceux qui travaillent pour sauver des vies et les protéger.
Que notre beau monde soit guéri et guéri.
Puissions-nous vivre en paix et que la compassion et l'amour coulent comme un vaste fleuve atteignant chaque partie de notre belle planète.
My thoughts and prayer:-
Here’s to a future of hope and health for all of us.
May God bless and heal those who are suffering right now from this disease.
May He strengthen those working to save lives and keep them safe.
May our beautiful world be healed and made whole.
May we live in peace and may compassion and love flow like a vast river reaching every part of our beautiful planet.