( photo by Brent Curtis )
I’ve never moved out of country before. For some, this is no big deal. For me, it’s a new adventure. The brie is always more ripe on the other side. You have grand ideas and hopes and new plans for your life “over there.” It’ll be different. It’ll be better. It’ll be fun and exciting. Then, when you get there you see what it’s really like. I can’t believe it’s been a year. When we headed out to France we said we’d rent for a year and figure out where to buy a house. So far, we’re still renting and not signed on a house. Though we’re excited about a house that will suit us to a tee. Nothing is set yet, but if it all works out, we can close this move-to-France chapter and begin our life as farmers.
But what the hell did I expect for a year in France and what actually happened? The biggest shortcoming I see is my French. You’d think that living a year in France would improve your French. Well let me say right here and now, if you have a Visa card, you do not need to learn French to live in France. My comprehension is impressive, buy my recall is atrocious. My lack of language is not mirrored my lack of motivation. I want to speak French. I want to speak French well. I hope to woo people with my cute outfits and fancy French so that they will buy my meat and proudly serve it in their restaurant. And so, I’ve taken a more guerilla approach to my studies because whatever it was I was doing before was not working. In the last two weeks, my approach has been working.
What else … I thought a year in France would be a long time. It’s not. I can’t imagine uprooting my family and moving them out here for only a year. If I moved back today, I’d spend most of my time recreating the things I love about France into my everyday life. This poses a huge problem living in America, as Americans are work-aholics. You see this most clearly in their inability to sit the fuck down for a minute and drink a coffee. In Southwest France, there are no to-go cups. No one walks around with a latte in hand on the way to work. They sit at the bar and knock back an espresso if in a hurry; otherwise they sit down at a table and enjoy a coffee. It doesn’t take long. In fact, I know I’ve waited in line in America for my to-go latte longer than it took me to sit down and have an espresso here in France. I do love America, but I wish they would take a minute to have a good lunch or drink a coffee. This spoken as a former latte lugging, commuting yuppie with too much pointless unread email who has decided to step into the 00’s and live life.
The internets reduce isolation. I’m connected to everyone. I’m sure that but a few years ago, I would be writing different words about my experience. The internet has had a HUGE impact on my feeling great about the big move. I talk weekly face to face(ish) with my Mom on Skype. I can read that a cat was stuck up a tree or that a strong wind is headed to Seattle in the morning headlines. Or that Riri wore (or dare I say whore) a crazy outfit to the Grammys. I can watch video of my friend’s dance performance. In some ways, being out here is no different than living in Seattle (except you can buy foie gras). I have a few friends that believe this is all a ruse. I’m still in Seattle, living in my crazy craftsman house pretending that I’ve actually taken the family to France. But I have. I did move. And everyday as I drive the winding road to e.leclerc. I think to myself, “holy shit. I love it here!” No joke. But please read that with “holy shit. I love it here” accompanied by Fun Radio playing Lady Gaga’s latest Poker Face moment. France is okay. I think I’ll stay some more.
It wasn’t said literally, but that was the facial expression. As I visited friends and family with many questions, the reactions seem to fall in three buckets. Those that are excited, those that believe we’re doomed for failure and those still struggling with the whole farmer thing as we appear to know nothing at all about the subject and they know more. I found myself repeating the phrase, “yes, I know … I know nothing about farming” and “I know, we’re crazy, but …” But really, what does it matter? There were also those who advised me to reread Charlotte’s Web. Now had I said that I’ve landed a job at a high tech company in Toulouse, the pay isn’t great, but the job looks fun. Those faces would have been supportive. Congratulatory. Excited that we landed so well after the big uproot. But then what would’ve been my adventure? A kiss good-bye to the family, an hour commute on the road one-way, meetings, valuable time spent arguing about nothing, moral events. Yes, I’m knocking the rat race. I like living life on the edge. I spent much of my life in the arts and almost equivalent time in high-tech start-ups which both satisfy that risky way of work. Nobody knows us, we are going to conquer the world, we have no money, but we’re going to make it big. What have we got to lose? Nothing if you’re in the arts. Quite a bit if you’re in a high-tech start-up. I see farming as the perfect blend of risky without a huge loss. A girl’s gotta eat don’t she? I need to buy a house. I need to eat. After that, what’s left? Some clothes I suppose. School is free and great. Healthcare is virtually free and great. Now I need to work on being a great (or okay) parent. I need to play with my children. I need to teach them to be considerate of others, to solve problems on their own, to drive themselves to accomplish what they want to be. The great appeal of this venture is that we can work at home with our children. At their age, they will LOVE the responsibility. I have to choose who gets to help with the dishes. The children absolutely thrive on adding value to the family. Sure the cynics will scoff at this as a phase or “wait ‘til they’re ten” … yadda yadda yadda. For the time being, they will love a role. They will love to own something. The thing that stood out most of all with my visit to my old digs was after the big look and the crazyness of me farming was out in the air and off the table, almost every single person reflected on some farming or farming-like experience they had in their life. It may have been tough or fun or maybe an interesting point in their life, but they shared it with me. I listened excitedly and attentively. How sweet is it that one can look back on their life and fondly reminisce the time they kept chickens? How cute the chickens were, but turned out chickens weren’t for them or more commonly, “what a great time that was.” What are people sharing now? That they watched every episode of Lost and it was great? That they finally got that home movie room completed? What part of the soul does this satisfy? What part of the community did this affect? Most of this type of stuff will be replaced by the newest, greatest home entertainment and hip-cool episode with the new Johnny Depp (he is hot, though!). I suppose what I discovered after leaving the dream was that what I’m intending to do strikes a chord with people. People who’ve never farmed a day in their life vehemently clarifying how absolutely hard this way of life is. You will never, EVER be able to leave! It’s ALL OVER FOR YOU if you choose this way of life. And here I sit, a prisoner in my house as my youngest takes her daily nap, which occurs everyday at the same time each day, everyday. And it’s not so bad. I get time to read. Time to write. Time to clean up and think. Seeing as I’ve never farmed before in my entire life, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll be a prisoner to the animals. Maybe I’ll never get to leave. Somehow, I doubt it or at the very least, I question it. I’ll never know unless I try. Then I too will have my stories that I reflect on fondly as my friend shares with me this crazy idea about quitting it all and starting a small farm. Oh maw gaw, I’ll say, I did that for a spell and it was the best time of my life …
(photo courtesy of Kevin Grealish)
She was a beautiful yellow. Speed Yellow they called it. So beautiful, I felt compelled to strip to my underwear and take a picture with her (sorry, a collection for the husband and not for public viewing). I LOVED that car. I still do as I know where she lives. I keep tabs on her. But, as in every romantic comedy, I needed to let her go with hopes she’ll realize I was actually more than a friend and the best lover she’d ever find. Perhaps near the end, we’ll meet again only with a different VIN number and year (I’m thinking turbo). What I need right now is not a hot, fast sports car, I’m in need of a tractor. Something not too fancy that will get the job done. I’m still working out what job needs to get done. It could be food for cattle. It could be a garlic field. Whatever it is, I’m excited. Farming is not something I imagined myself doing. I scream at the sight of spiders, I run when snakes are present, I can barely keep my basil alive. I’ve never owned a houseplant that made it past a week. I will not do anything dirty without proper gloves. Yet, I see farming as a challenge. The great unknown. Who will buy my sweet red roses, two blooms for a penny. Who am I to think I can take on forty or so hectares of land and turn a profit? How do I turn on a tractor? How do I turn on a cow? I haven’t a clue, but that is the thrill of it. I can get a gaggle of geeks to churn out software in my sleep. There’s no challenge in that. Getting three pigs from one paddock to the next? Now that’s tough. Farming is archaic. We yuppies are so removed from where food comes from. Why reduce my earning potential to do hard manual labor without much room for vacation? What about my bonus? I’m still working out the answer to that one. It makes no sense, but it feels right. I’m very particular with where food comes from. I sing Old McDonald Had A Farm with my children and I’ve only seen in the flesh half the animals listed in the song in the last year. I am thirty-seven and I touched a chicken for the first time last June. The broody bitch was sitting on my eggs. I showed her. Old McDonald was more appropriate when I sang the version that included new granite bench tops and a new media room. Ee-eye-ee-eye ooooh. And in that house he had a new Viking range, ee-eye-ee-eye oooh. And the farming is only half of it. I’m really excited to figure out, in French, how to get people to buy my superior chook. My happy pig.. My pasteurized veal. Yes, the baby cow with the moist eyes. That cow. How will I sell it? It had a great life. Pastured with various grass species that I grew with my husband. How much will you pay for that? We don’t know. At the price of surrendering my sweet, beautiful Speed Yellow Porsche, I’m first in line to find out. I gave it all up. After a few alterations of the standard, blue (with seven fun prints) French lady smock, I await the first harrow of one of the many fields I will help tend. Which comes first, the tractor or the land ….
(photo CURTISy of Brent Curtis)
I’ve read many books about people moving to France enjoying the lifestyles, the culture, the language and the food. Great books. I’m enjoying the lifestyle, the culture, the language and the food. I started to blog about the differences. Hey, look at all the cheese you can buy, but where’s the orange cheese? Or blogging about the cool things they have here. Diesel diesel everywhere! Quickly, I found myself duplicating a common theme. Yes, it’s great here and my experience is no different in that respect. But the real question is why the heck did I give up my high-status shoot-me-an-email High-Tech Career with power meetings and status updates. Why leave my fast, yellow Porsche out in the cold rubbing seat to bum with a new daddy. My newly remodeled house with fancy water tap that turns on in the presence of your soapy hands and a range that turns up to eleven with 360XBTUs. I personally planted almost every plant in that yard. Why leave a beautiful, though cold, city that has everything I could possibly need. Including more than three private kindergartens, if selected, that will extract seventeen thousand US dollars from me to usefully educate my child. I was settled in Seattle so what’s with the big move? Why France?
The last post I wrote on this blog was about the market and the amazing produce. Then, I stopped. Nothing. What happened in May? How about June and July? Was I around in August? September, I don’t remember. October is here, I’m here ready to get on with writing something , anything about what is going on over here after uprooting my family from the prototypical path laid out before us. The American Dream. What was my American Dream lacking? Did moving to France have anything to do with America? I don’t think I moved the family to France to get away, but rather to discover. Right now, here in October, I can’t articulate why, but I think I’m on to something.
I’m not knocking the American Dream or maybe I am. As George Carlin put it, “it’s the American Dream ’cause you have to be asleep to believe it.” Or as James Truslow Adams, the coiner of the phrase (yes, I wikipedia-ed American Dream so there) explains, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone …” mumble mumble European upper class “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” I got to a point (or a pointless), I think, where it really was about motor cars and high wages where the dream of social order and innate capability were put on the back burner, low-pri, minimal ROI. People in America ask “What do you do?” In the past five months, people ask me “How’s it going?” ça va? ça va.
Originally we were set to ship all of our beloved belongings off to France and wait for it to arrive when we got there. This plan seemed great until the first moving quote was received. Twelve to thirteen thousand for door to door. Eek. I’m sure I could cut it down to at least nine thousand ideally less, but that would require a heck of a lot of work. I ran a couple other shipping-stuff- to-France requests and it all started to feel like planning a wedding where the business brings out the “other” book because it’s your “special day” and everything should be absolutely “perfect”. All I needed was to put crap in a box, put that box in a container, the container on a ship that floats across the sea then pops on a truck that drives to my house where I grab my box of crap and stick it in my house. It all seemed so simple, but incredibly priced. I then started to question my motives. Why do I have all this crap? Of all this stuff, what do I actually need? If we’re staying but a couple years, can I live without all this? What I really want to do is show up in France with my family, some clothes and the cat. Yet I find it so difficult to part with my long sought after Lego phone and my beautiful Eames Lounge chair. If I get rid of this stuff, will I miss it and re-buy it? I probably wouldn’t because it’d be too expensive. So, that’s when I looked into storage. Storage is a WAY cheaper option and also buys you time to figure out what to do with your life’s accumulation. It then becomes a lot easier to sift through all the stuff and ask yourself if you’d re-buy this if tossed and how much would that be? Cute, Italian barstools, totally re-buy, but super expensive means KEEP. Cute Danish bookshelves in okay condition, eh, they’re everywhere and fairly priced, SELL. Sturdy storage containers in fine condition, these things are typically suited to the current house and easily replaced, DONATE. Everything else, TOSS. I wish I were brave enough to get rid of everything, but I’m not that strong. It turns out I’m quite attached to some furniture, some books, my bras and my cat.