Every morning at 7 a.m. the church bells ring down in the village of Prats du Perigord, the echoes are permeable as the sky is clear and frost grips the land, remaining polar until the sun rises to loosen the ribbons of sleep. Then formations emerge through the orange and blue, awaking the kaleidoscope of day.
It’s February but It feels more like spring, more like what March would feel like in my former city of Portland, Oregon. There is no rain in sight for the coming days. The garden (jardin) centers are coming alive and the locals are even threatening to cut the grass. It is still technically winter but no one has apparently informed the inhabitants of Southwest France; except for those who still had their Christmas decorations up until the end of January.
Here we remain unconcerned about the protests in Paris, the insistence that raising the retirement age to 64 is certainly the end of civilization as we know it, and many of the French insist they will be too old to enjoy their golden years. France has the lowest retirement age in all of Europe, and they enjoy some of the best systems such as their healthcare, but it certainly doesn’t come for free. Paris has been in a gridlock for weeks now as the unions take to the streets and halt services such as le metro (Mon dieu!!).
One of the highlights of our continuing integration is that we finally figured out how to use the car wash – this was accomplished by spying on the local population: Unlike the system in the US where you pay and then drive through, here, you drive up to the wash itself, make sure you are secure against “bump ” that triggers the green light, exit your car and the pay at the kiosk. We were wondering why people were lounging around the waiting area while their car was being washed. The system is rather clever as the mechanism runs back and forth over your car while it remains stationary. No more fun of driving through! We now have a clean car💖
We decided it was time for another side trip to visit the local sites – this time we ventured to the medevial city of Belvès, spending the afternoon wandering around and then settling in for a cup of coffee. Much is still closed up and we are wait in great anticipation when the cafe and shop owners start to open up and their wares spill out into the streets.
As we forge new relationships, we found ourselves spending a post-Valentines Day brunch at our friend’s lovely country house (once again), indulging in her local dishes, learning the French way of dining and surveying the garden with ideas for the impending spring.
We continue our daily french language studies complemented by a weekly visit to Monpazier (which we discovered was part of the set of Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” and is now a set for a french film) for a more interactive lesson. We have cultivated some new acquaintances and are becoming a local at a cafe that sports a fair amount of American retro art deco-like posters that makes me feel right at home.
We hadn’t ventured much into the fast food arena here and then much to my horror: Krispy Kreme and Popeye’s announced they will be opening up their fast food joints here in France. I was never a fan of Kristy Kreme, and well the patisseries are to die for here😍 so do the math! Yet, McDonald’s is seriously popular in France, especially with the youth. Upon further research they source all their food locally, it’s organic and they are highly regulated by the EU meaning sans the preservatives, hormones etc….so a bit better than the overprocessed American version. But still! But we got curious and had to check it out and the food tastes much less processed than in the states; even the salads are something you would find in a nice bistro. While they do drive-through, the french are fond of their two hour lunch and you will find them lounging at the local McDonalds while they are being served their food in recyclable containers – even the french fries come in a signature McDonald’s plastic molded cup!
Another hurdle we finally overcame was the opening of our French bank account at BNP Paribas. It was a welcome relief as all the French government systems require this and setting up our house for the electrical, heating etc. requires an account as well. While this came as a welcome relief we still hadn’t seen our bank cards for a couple of weeks. I called our agent’s office and got her assistant who spoke a little english but managed to navigate me through the phone app to get a message to her. Alas, this is France and our agent profusely apologized saying the drugs from her dental appointment caused her to somehow lose her memory. We were running low on Euros and don’t like using our American credit cards as we get dinged with the current conversion depending on the strength of the dollar. We can however do direct transfers from our bank to certain retailers, more so at point-of-sale rather than online so we have been able to maneuver around our current handicap – at least for now.
As we were in Bergerac it was the perfect day to meander the historic town center, accompanied by Cyrano himself. We will be spending more time here with friends, shopping, enjoying cafe chats and long walks along the river.
Our cards finally arrived in a few days and I was able to go on a bit of a shopping spree as we had furniture we needed delivered to the new digs.
March 1st marked the closing of our house followed by the appointment with the local office to enroll in the French Healthcare system. Once we get their version of a social security number (not to be confused with the American version), which is used specifically for healthcare, we will be issued our Carte Vitale and be able to finally set up an appointment with a general practitioner. This will get us into the network of specialists we are eager to connect with.
We will miss the hikes through the woods and green spaces of Prats du Perigord, surrounded by working farms, the horses, donkey, dogs and goose (just one!). Our initial immersion into France has been as equally lovely as it has been frustrating; the difference is the latter is temporary while the former will be an enduring experience for the rest of our lives.
The weather turned cold again, with heavy frost and even a dusting of snow but nothing compared to what the west coast of the United States was enduring. Reflecting on our situation this time last year, I realized we could have been stuck in Portland or in Santa Rosa as we wouldn’t have been able to get through to the Alabama Hills in California with our RV. Back in the 70’s I remember one storm that blasted through Southern California and for the first time you could see the mountains – we had a small respite from the horrific Los Angeles smog of that era.
The day of our signing finally arrived and we powered through it at the Notaire in Villereal with no incident and were handed our keys. Voila! We owned a house in France!
Yet we couldn’t go play at the house as we had an hour drive for our healthcare appointment, and we had to finish packing up and cleaning up the gite. That took up Thursday and Friday and then we finally arrived for good on Saturday morning; it was early and crispy cold, but here, the landscape sweeps you along its sensual curves to deposit you at its doorstep, ignoring your protests. The sun was also very accomodating; it decided there would be no contest as it emerged to celebrate this glorious day.
After years of dreaming, copious amounts of planning, being in a constant state of (and many times exhausting) transition for a year….we had finally arrived. More to come on our homeowner experience.
After managing some delivery faux pas (like a bed), we settled in for our first night and even managed to get the Wi-Fi going, averting a potential disaster🙄
I awoke early on Sunday, and as I walked down the hallway I could hear the crowing of a rooster, the national symbol of France.