It's the end of August and the end of our first full year in Pouillé. It feels like we officially live here now, though I realize that I still feel like I'm settling into this life. Probably because so much felt exceptional and up in the air this year, it was hard to get used to anything before it dramatically changed into something else, or before I started reminiscing about what came before.
I've thought of this year in a lot of different ways throughout the past 12 months. It was my tenth year in France, my last in Paris and my first in the countryside. It was the end of being a single urban apartment dweller and the beginning of living with my loved one.
It was a hopeful year, with all the ideas we brought with us for the future, packed in our minds like our possessions in moving boxes. It was a year of surprises, some exciting and fun- especially when we learned new things about ourselves, our hidden talents, and our ability to adapt. At times the surprises were heartbreaking or disappointing- and we were let down by our expectations of ourselves and others.
It was a participative year- with friends and family from different cities and countries coming to stay in their adopted country house. We pulled out sofa beds and made up guest beds, I've never washed as many sheets in my life and never so consistently felt the joy of a full house.
It was a year of eating- abundant in inspiring seasonal, often foraged ingredients, and equally full of days where I would've just ordered in pizza but couldn't- because there wasn't anywhere to order from. So I sucked it up and cooked- and I'm better off because I did.
It was a hard year. From the rising flood waters in our backyard to the present day drought that is currently turning grapes into raisins on the vines, we've had no shortage of extremes. In just one year we've gone from the threat of frostbite in the vines to a violent heatwave. It seemed like this year only existed to challenge us. My potager died, came back to life, and now it is overgrown with unripe tomatoes- due to my lack of gardening experience and the weather that was just never right this year.
It was a hard year. That's what I keep saying when I talk about what it feels like to be someone who moved from a city to the countryside in a wine growing region in 2016. But I can't settle on simply saying that 2016 was a hard year. 12 months later, I realize that my frustrations with any and all obstacles encountered could've been alleviated if instead of thinking of this as a hard year I thought of it as a Learning Year.
Here are some things I learned, things that make this year very dear to me, because they are lessons I won't have to learn in my next year in Pouillé, and they are lessons I will build on for the next 365 days:
“On ne compare pas l'incomparable” (you can't compare what's incomparable): Every place has its own inherent, incomparable beauty.
Prune tomato plants: Before your garden becomes a jungle of leaves!
Make friends with your neighbors right away: They know more about where you live then you do, and they are there to help you.
Cucumber plants like shade: Fact.
The smaller the community, the bigger your role: Small actions make a big difference. Help organize a party with your neighbors and share something that's you made from scratch. Lend and borrow things. Make plans. Introduce the thing you miss into your new world, and people will share things you never knew about with you.
Cats are more resilient than you think: And they're also really good at being cats. No need to worry, or take them to the vet, as much as you may think. It took me about 250 euro to learn the vet thing....
Cooking every day makes you a better cook: So slowly that you won't even notice it, perhaps. But that's also because cooking every day also makes you more confident in the kitchen (and maybe life?) Moments when baby steps in progress or change are clear to you make every meal along the way even more worth it.
Make sure your house has a reliable source of electricity before renting it: Learn it, live it.
Don't ever let yourself become blasé about the thrill of tasting something you made: This is the most amazing thing we can do in our lives- in the city, countryside, in a foreign country or at home, in your own language or a borrowed one, in times of happiness or times of homesickness- the best thing we can do is create. Don't ever get over that, because there's nothing more worth getting excited about.
And with that, another year in the countryside begins.....