December: How to Catch a Chicken

 The chickens discovering their new home

The chickens discovering their new home

“We'll do it tonight. You'll have to come help me catch them, I can't do it alone.” I read Noëlla's text out loud to Ben.

That night we were going to help Noëlla capture her brood of chickens, one by one, and bring them to the henhouse we had prepared in our backyard. After moving from a house with a garden to an apartment in a nearby town, Noëlla no longer had space for her three chickens and rooster and was therefore lending them to us until she found herself living in a country house again. Ben had never had chickens and neither had I, and we hoped our first farm animals would like us. We were uneasy with our first impression on the chickens, feeling that maybe tackling them in their home and bringing them somewhere new under the cover of night wasn't the best foot to get off on.

At some point the question came up of what we would transport them in- this is how prepared we were.

Noëlla picked us up at 7pm which, in December, meant that the night sky was already pitch black. We briefly talked about our strategy. At some point the question came up of what we would transport them in- this is how prepared we were. We decided cardboard boxes would do the trick and my left over “des bras de plus” moving boxes proved useful once again. We folded the cardboard back into boxes then filled the back of Nëolla's van with the makeshift chicken carriers and some flashlights to help in our covert operation and hit the road.

 Ben finishes building the fence for the hen house

Ben finishes building the fence for the hen house

When we reached La Tesnière, where Noëlla used to live and her chickens would live for approximately another 20 minutes, we tried to keep quiet. Sneaking into the hen house we saw the chickens were fast asleep, facing tail out and perched in their roost, oblivious to our existence. Kidnapping conditions changed abruptly when, realizing the flashlights we brought offered insufficient light, Noëlla repositioned her car and turned on the headlights, bathing the hen house in a wave of yellow illumination worthy of a prison break. This, of course, caused some commotion.

We had to act fast. Our plan, as Noëlla described it to us, was this: grab a chicken and put it in a box.

That was it- just grab one and put it in a box.

Ben went for the rooster, who seemed the slowest to realize he was in danger and therefore the easiest, albeit largest, to apprehend. Noëlla, who said she didn't want to catch any of the chickens at first- sprung into action and grabbed a little black hen who hardly saw it coming. I laid my hands on a larger white hen, who I managed to calm enough that I could arrange her flapping feathers into a cardboard box. We were left with just one hen, a beautiful white lady with a black collar who I call “L'Islandaise” or “The Icelandic” because she looks like she's wearing a traditional Nordic sweater.

 Possibly considering a plan of escape from Château Dilling

Possibly considering a plan of escape from Château Dilling

To all of our surprise, Noëlla was by now fully in chicken catching mode and cornered the terrified lady, then lunged to grab her. While the others had eventually submitted to their fate, L'Islandaise was having none of it. She screamed her dissent and squawked in protest even after we had managed to get her into a box. Phase one of the chicken conquest was successfully finished and in anticipation of celebrations Noëlla ran off to her nearby wine cellar and came back to the car with a bottle of 2014 Chez Charles, her sauvignon that she had just bottled and a 2013 LBL- another elegant sauvignon.

On the road back to our house, with the adrenalin still rushing, Noëlla explained the job wasn't over yet. To be sure the chickens don't fly away we should cut their wings, she told us. I looked at Ben in horror. “It's not like it sounds” he assured me “we're not going to cut their wings- just their feathers.” Noëlla affirmed, “It doesn't hurt them, it's just like a haircut” she assured me.

After a bumpy ride to their new home, the chickens were once again shocked by the outdoor lights that allowed us to give them little hen haircuts before leaving them in peace. One by one we took them out of their box. I held their beating chests and tried to calm their jabbing legs as Noëlla carefully trimmed the feathers of only one wing- so that they were uneven lengths- preventing them from flying away. Freshly coiffed and lovingly deposited onto the fresh hay that Ben and I had attentively covered the floor of the hen house with, the brood settled into their first night in a new home.

 Starting to feel at home

Starting to feel at home

Over glasses of wine with Noëlla, we got a training in Chicken 101, what and what not to feed them, what to expect by way of eggs (these chickens had stopped laying with the onset of winter- who knows when they would start again), and where to order the organic grain that we were to feed them, along with all the kitchen scraps that would enjoy from our kitchen.

We left the chickens in the hen house for ten days and then let them out to graze and learn about their new surroundings while we learned about them. There was Jacques, or Chi Chi, the rooster and his favorite of the brood- the large white hen I had caught- Bernadette, the lady I came to know as L'Islandaise was actually a chicken called a “Contres” named for the town her breed came from and for balance, the little black hen was named “Pour”.

Chickens have an unimposing presence, they are always there but never in the way. They go on with their day without asking for much aside from food and water. Even our kitten, who was only three months old and very playful when the chickens joined our family, wasn't tempted to hunt or chase his feathered friends- they're just so peaceful that it wouldn't occur to even the most energetic of living things to be threatened by their existence.

We had the chickens for barely a month before they started laying eggs. A sign that they were happy in their new home.

 Our first egg!

Our first egg!

 

 

November: New Homes and What We Fill Them With

 Welcome to Château Dilling

Welcome to Château Dilling

After much moving and back and forth, Ben and I had all our possessions in the same place. We added a member of the family with the addition of a kitten, who had escaped the autumn cull- when farmers “get rid of” litters of kittens to avoid overpopulation. The 2 month old Dale, or as we more often called him mini chat, was our first official house guest, but we would soon find out that many others would follow.

But before getting to house guests, a little bit about finding a house in the French countryside. There are currently 27 houses for sale in Pouillé. In a village with a population of a little over 700 people this represents a huge amount- about one out of ten houses, roughly, is for sale. The numbers are similar in neighboring villages as well. Houses stay on the market for a long time as owners cross their fingers that one day their decisions to renovate old winemakers' homes and windmills will pay off.

Renting a house, however, is a different story. As a musician and a freelance writer, respectively, Ben and I make little money and even less sense as candidates for a loan. Buying a house was not a possibility for us so finding a house to rent was our only option. We started browsing the French equivalent of Craig's List – leboncoin.fr – for rentals in the area and found exactly two. We visited the first one together, an uninspiring track house that we would've taken if the owner hadn't decided halfway through our visit, possibly after meeting us -the tattooed musician and the American writer- that she would rather sell the house then rent it.

 Ben's first concert in Pouillé!

Ben's first concert in Pouillé!

A few weeks later Ben made the trip to visit the house we live in now. It was big, had a yard, a large bedroom, and a guest room. I learned all of this through texts and calls from Ben and our friend Juliette, who toured the house with Ben and updated me on their visit while I was back in Paris, doing one of my awful summer jobs. I saw the house- an old winemaker's home that had been entirely renovated by the owner- through photos when Ben got back. We said yes to it right away because we were ready to have a place to live.

We took everything with a sigh, a shoulder shrug, and a smile because we were happy to be living together and happy to be living in Pouillé.

Living in a house in the French countryside is very different from living in an apartment in Paris. I knew I would miss the charms of Parisian apartments, but I hadn't realized that the standard practice in the French countryside was to gut old houses of their inherent beauty and replace everything with cheaply manufactured modern conveniences. The elderly population in the countryside almost universally prefer electric heat and intense insolation, shunning the days of their youth when they huddled around a fireplace for heat and shivered themselves to sleep in drafty bedrooms. Bathtubs, fireplaces, stone walls and wood beams- everything must go- seems to be the overwhelming philosophy of renovation projects in the region.

Our home was no exception to this rule. The landlord, who fancied himself a homme à tout faire, a sort of freelance handyman, had done all the work himself and cut every corner along the way. Upon first glance the house is fine, and we have made it a very happy home, but every day, at least in the early days of living here,  a new architectural shortcoming seemed to come to light. The styrofoam paneling on the ceiling to retain heat, the plastic showers that have leaked since day one, the obviously impractical white tiles that immediately show each speck of dirt in a country house which people track mud into every day. The neon lighting overhead, the mirrors in the bathroom hung so low that you have to be on your knees to catch your reflection, the list goes on. We took everything with a sigh, a shoulder shrug, and a smile because we were happy to be living together and happy to be living in Pouillé.

 Baby Dale watches his BIG brother play on impractical white tile

Baby Dale watches his BIG brother play on impractical white tile

I know these are first world problems. I know we are lucky to have a house to call a home. And I want to say that aesthetic issues with the house wouldn't even merit airing in public if that's all there was to the house...

But then the electricity went out. Over and over again. Despite the fact that our house had been on the market for so long that the landlord decided to finally rent it out, somehow he had failed to equip the house with a steady source of electricity. Apparently he didn't see a problem with that.

We tried to take it in stride- the fact that we were essentially illegally sharing electricity with our neighbor/landlord through a cord connected to his house, until November rolled around and it started to get cold. Equipped with the option of an antique wood stove that had been left behind by the owner and a noisy electric heating system, we tried to rely on our stock of wood to heat the house instead of straining our electricity reserves. But heating wasn't our only challenge.

 Dale "hiding" in the wood stack

Dale "hiding" in the wood stack

While living on limited electricity we learned that: we couldn't have the oven and the stove on at the same time, we couldn't wash clothes (something I need to do practically every other day with all the muddy jeans, soiled socks, and sweaty shirts that working in the vines generates) and cook at the same time, and that- for reasons unknown to us- sometimes we couldn't simply boil a pot of water to make coffee without shorting out all the electricity in the house.

We tried everything, Ben turned off the water heater after our morning showers and then got up in the middle of the night to turn it back on so we would have hot water in the morning. We unplugged everything when I wanted to make a cake around the same time I was thinking of using the stovetop to make dinner. We tried our best, but it seemed like every simple gesture became complicated by the never ending cycle of the lights going out, sending us to the landlord's house to flip the switch on the circuit breaker to get the electricity back, then repeating as necessary.

Later that week, at a lunch with the winemakers I brought hard boiled eggs which oozed out of their shells when cracked open... I was mortified.

“I think I'm going to go crazy” I texted my friend Kristen one morning, when Ben was away on tour and I was alone, left to bundle up against the early winter chill and go next door four times in the span of 30 minutes, in the vain hope that I would be able to make a cup of coffee.

 Winemaker lunch. Not shown: my disastrous hard "boiled" eggs

Winemaker lunch. Not shown: my disastrous hard "boiled" eggs

Later that week, at a lunch with the winemakers I brought hard boiled eggs which oozed out of their shells when cracked open- the electricity had gone out just as I was starting to boil the eggs earlier that day and, not able to rally to go back to the landlord's house for the nth time that day, I had hoped letting them soak in the still hot water would do the trick. It didn't. I was mortified.

By the time Thanksgiving was nearing I was happy I had bought a ticket to spend the holiday with my family in California. Mostly because I knew I could cook and read by lamplight uninterrupted thanks to a reliable source of electricity. Also because I love my family.

 Santa Cruz, no need for heaters here

Santa Cruz, no need for heaters here

While in California, I made plans to have a sleepover with Brigitte, my childhood friend and also my cousin. We had plans to meet at her house in Santa Cruz, which I had never been to. She gave me directions in a text message: “The main house is a white house...the lock box is by the front door, please let yourself in. Sit on the hammock, lounge on the couch, take a nap in my bed, walk to the park at the end of the street...There are a couple of beers in the fridge and crackers and cheese and anything else you can find to eat is yours...We can do anything you want, I just am so excited to see you.”

This is one of my favorite texts of all time. Brigitte lives in her equivalent of My Paris Apartment and I knew it the minute I walked in the door. A main house hidden behind two large Victorian houses is where Brigitte has her first floor studio apartment that made me feel immediately warm and welcomed.

I hadn’t felt this isolated since when I first moved to Paris, and had to make myself at home abroad for the first time.

Living in Pouillé had started to feel increasingly challenging- the electricity was a big thing, but also the transition from having a  group of friends made up of people who were like me- lady food writers and goofy expats- to a new peer group of French winemakers, was harder than I thought it would be. I felt left out of conversations a lot, not used to being 100% French 100% of the time and felt discouraged about ever truly being friends with the people that now made up my social circle. I hadn't felt this isolated since when I first moved to Paris, and had to make myself at home abroad for the first time. 

Not being able to make a successful hardboiled egg contribution to communal lunches- or even a cup of coffee in the morning for that matter- didn't help things. I was happy to be in my cousin's apartment- in a new place that felt familiar, sitting on a porch looking out onto the Cyprus trees that reach towards the California coastline, waiting to have wine and crackers with someone I've known my whole life, with whom I could do anything I wanted, we were just excited to see each other. That moment, and a fun night out with my cousin, was exactly what I needed to get me back to bubbling, like a kettle with unlimited access to electricity, with happiness.

 Cousins!

Cousins!

Eventually the electricity in our house in Pouillé got sorted out. It's a period of our life that we've almost forgotten about now- thanks to a healthy human instinct to suppress memories that no longer serve us.

The lights are still slightly blinding and the styrofoam panels aren't going anywhere, but we've added our own touches to the house. We have our records- Ben's Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy and my Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, and Fleetwood Mac. There's Ben's guitars, my books, houseplants, our cats, and a calendar that is filled with the names of friends who have booked their weekends at their adopted country house in advance.

There are the things that were waiting for us when we moved into our house- some unwelcome discoveries and challenging realities- and then there's what we filled our house with: not just our things, but also our friends. And I'm happy to say that our friends won't let leaky showers or fluorescent lights get in the way of our good times. 

A home isn't electricity or tiles or questionable taste in interior design. A home is a place where the people you love feel at home, too. 

 Impromp-tutu party under the neon lights of Château Dilling's main hall

Impromp-tutu party under the neon lights of Château Dilling's main hall

October: Why Our Apartments Are Important to Us

 The dining room of My Paris Apartment, with its famous green wall

The dining room of My Paris Apartment, with its famous green wall

September was a rush, Ben and I were back and forth from Paris to celebrate the publication of my first book, My Paris Market Cookbook, which was released on September 15th. With the help of our friends Mardi and Nichole of the Parisites, we organized a party to celebrate the book's entry into the world and the people that made My Paris Market Cookbook possible. Ben prepared the food, helping me adapt recipes from the book to feed a crowd. Thierry from the Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or donated a keg of beer and our winemaker friends Noëlla and Laurent gave us magnums of wine. We were ready for a good time.

Ben was a champ and took care of all the pre-party prep so I could go back to my apartment and get ready an hour before the guests were supposed to arrive. It must've been raining, or maybe I had a lot of things to carry, because instead of riding a bike back to the bar, I took the metro to La Chambre Noire, which hosting the party. I remember frantically devouring Rona Jaffe's book The Best of Everything during the metro ride back. I only had a page or two left when I got to my stop, so I found a corner of the République metro station and finished the this story of determined women making lives for themselves in the city.

The evening was perfect, I was surrounded by friends and people who supported the book and it was one of those moments that felt filled with love. It made it hard to realize I would be leaving the city behind
 Release party for  My Paris Market Cookbook

Release party for My Paris Market Cookbook

I left the metro station and made my way to the bar to celebrate the life I had made for myself in the city. The evening was perfect, I was surrounded by friends and people who supported me and the book. It made it hard to realize I would be leaving the city behind- my official move-out date was now looming as I prepared to leave My Paris Apartment. The October 4th date to hand over the keys would come quickly and with it the end of my Parisian life.

I think we've all had an apartment like My Paris Apartment. An apartment that's not just the place we live but something much more important than that. These apartments are even more precious to women, for whom a space of their own secures independence, safety, and freedom from comprise. These apartments represent a victory and a rite of passage in a lady's life in a big city. They represent perseverance, courage, and victory after a long list of horrible accommodations survived and left behind. Especially when you live far away from your family, when having a space of your own means even more because you aren't from here. 

These apartments are even more precious to women, for whom a space of their own secures independence, safety, and freedom from comprise. These apartments represent a victory and a rite of passage in a lady’s life in a big city.

In her book All the Single Ladies Rebecca Traister writes about the first apartment she had to herself in New York. “My flat was small and not fancy, but I loved every inch of it. I used to have nightmares about having accidentally given up that apartment; in the dreams, I'd be looking into it through its big windows, desperate to get back in.”

 Cooking (in aprons!) in my Paris kitchen

Cooking (in aprons!) in my Paris kitchen

I loved every square meter of My Paris Apartment. The big bathtub where my showers sometimes turned into impulsive baths. The wall I painted a shade of green called “So British”. The hardwood floors. The tiny bedroom with a view of Paris rooftops. My photos and prints and memories on the wall.

I loved that everything was there because I put it there. My fridge filled with fresh herbs and veggies from my farmer at my local market. I even loved cleaning my apartment because it was mine and I was proud of it and wanted to take care of it. It made me happy to know that my apartment was waiting for me at the end of each day, the leaves on the tree outside my Bd. de Barbès facing window may have changed with the seasons, but my apartment always felt the same. It felt like home. 

 View from my window

View from my window

For at least 40 years, my mom has had a red velvet fainting couch in storage because of what it means to her- it was the first piece of furniture she bought, it was in the home she lived in on her own, it's hers. My older sister excitedly sends me photos of her apartment, most recently of her guest bedroom, freshly painted blue. That house is hers. One of my best friends will still on occasion talk about her “cherry apartment” that she had over a decade ago in Los Angeles, with a red formica table and bright red cherry tones in the kitchen. That was Her Los Angeles Apartment.

Whenever I’m watching a show with female protagonists I always stress during break up scenes- will she get to keep her apartment???

I identify with that pride and love for these possessions and places. Whenever I'm watching a show with female protagonists I always stress during break up scenes- will she get to keep her apartment??? You can't imagine how difficult it is for me to get through a season of Girls.

 A party in My Paris Apartment

A party in My Paris Apartment

Before living in My Paris Apartment I lived in: a two month sublet in the 11th with French people I struggled to communicate with in French, a disastrous loft sublet in the 4th in which the crazy owner unexpectedly came back to live with my roommates and I, a tiny studio in the 9th where the neighbor slipped marijuana cigarettes under my door (that apartment was pretty great, actually), an all around horrible stint in an apartment in the 15th arrondissement with a bad boyfriend, an illegal sublet managed by a sketchy dude in the 9th, and a dingy apartment on the outskirts of the 18th on the worst metro line ever- the dreaded line 13.

Then I got my apartment, in the heart of the 18th arrondissement. The dinner party apartment, the party party apartment, the sing-Céline-Dion-at-the-top-of-your-lungs apartment, the sleepover apartment, the movie night apartment. It was a home that made people feel at home and it's where I got to fall asleep every night and wake up every morning.

 My amazing moving crew that was there with my to say good-bye to My Paris Apartment

My amazing moving crew that was there with my to say good-bye to My Paris Apartment

It's hard to give up something you've worked hard for. Even if you know it's time to move on. I knew moving was the right step forward- my relationship with Ben was a source of happiness and revelations. Through him I was learning what a healthy relationship felt like. Instead of feeling left out when I saw my friends being supported by their partners- something I didn't get in my marriage- now I was being supported and consoled and doted on and loved. I had found the person that I wish everyone would find- someone capable of love, understanding, and passion. Someone who was excited to make plans with me, someone who I was excited to make plans with.

I was leaving behind my dream city and a large network of friends. I would miss all those extra sets of arms.

I packed up my boxes and got ready to move. My move felt different from Ben's. Ben was ready to leave Nantes behind. I was ready, too- but not with the same leave-it-all-behind mentality. I think our two moves could be summed up by our moving boxes. Ben packed up his worldly possessions in boxes that read “démanager seul” (move alone) while my moving boxes promised “des bras de plus” (an extra set of arms). Ben was leaving behind 17 years and his best friend in Nantes, but also a few burnt bridges and a slightly bad taste in his mouth. I was leaving behind my dream city and a large network of friends. I would miss all those extra sets of arms.

 We almost forgot the gaudy gold chandelier!!

We almost forgot the gaudy gold chandelier!!

We moved into our house just in time for walnut season. We could leave baskets underneath the branches of the walnut tree in our backyard and come back to find them filled. I started to understand the meaning of the word “bountiful”. We had more walnuts than we knew what to do with. I included them in every recipe I could think of and we shared them with our friends. It felt like the walnuts would never end, but we were new at living in the countryside- where everything has its season and things disappear as soon as you get used to them.

Learning to say good-bye isn't a lesson learned exclusively in the countryside, but the more I live here, the more I realize that nature is great at helping us understand how to transition. 

I still think about My Paris Apartment sometimes. It's been six months since I let it go and it's slowly started to slip my mind, but I do sometimes have dreams similar to Traister's- in them I don't accidentally give up my apartment, in my dreams I discover that I still have my apartment, for just one more day.

 

 

 

 

September: It Starts with a Cat Carrier and Country Clothes

 Jack's first encounter with countryside footwear

Jack's first encounter with countryside footwear

It's hard to tell where the idea came from. When the plan was hatched and how it happened so quickly. Surely it's thanks to the end of a disappointing marriage to a disappointing person. It likely had something to do with my first sip of natural wine. Perhaps the seed was planted as long ago as the day I started my blog, Paris Paysanne. Without a doubt, the idea became bigger than me beginning with a harvest season first kiss and every day that followed. But the actual move- from Paris to the town of Pouillé (population 754)- where did that idea come from? 

Probably my cat, who was currently cowering in a small carrier asBen and I tried to cajole him into drinking water while we waited for our train at Gare Montparnasse. The cat in question, Jack Meower, had had a rough summer. After over a year of being the sole prince of his Parisian kingdom, he had been forced to make room for an interloper: my wonderful boyfriend Ben. Thankfully the two, begrudgingly, had managed to find a way to co-habitate after Ben came to live with me for the summer.

 Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

If it had been just that- the arrival of a new love in my life- Jack may have been able to adapt, but that summer was one of subtle upheaval and not-so-delicate disturbances. The savings I had been living on after being laid off the year before ran out and I was forced to scramble to do four different odd jobs that I pulled together to pay the rent. In order to help out financially and meet people in a city that was new to him, Ben got a job that kept him working late and feeling exhausted. 

We were grumpy when not together, but deliriously happy when let loose in the Paris streets ensemble. After six years spent with someone whose weekend plans unfailingly involved going to the same bar he had been frequenting since high school, I was thrilled to be with someone who wanted to do things and do them with me. And I wanted to do things with him because, I was slowly figuring out after living in the absence of true love for so long, that's what being in love means. 

We were discovering each other, Ben was discovering the city, I was discovering how great it feels to share happiness with someone. We were full of energy and we were thirsty.

We were discovering each other, Ben was discovering the city, I was discovering how great it feels to share happiness with someone. We were full of energy and we were thirsty. Inspired by wine lists and restaurant openings, we zigzagged across the city, visiting bars, restaurants, and wine shops- spending more money than we had and drinking more glasses than we needed. Every adventure, wine soaked and shiny new, felt like a perfect way to celebrate the fact that we had found each other. 

 Obligatory cheesy Eiffel Tower picture

Obligatory cheesy Eiffel Tower picture

We had places to go and bikes to ride and we didn't care if crappy jobs were the price of entry to the adult amusement park that is Paris. 

As workers gutted the entire apartment, drilling directly into what seemed to be a subterranean extension of my bed frame, we tried to sleep and ignore the fact that we had front row seats to the most ubiquitous soundtrack of Paris: pure, consistent noise.

Then the construction started. As everyone took off for their August holidays while their strategically timed home renovations began in Paris, we stayed in the city and worked our crazy hours. From what seemed to be 7 am, but was maybe later (time is relative when you've both worked the closing shift at a bar) until it-didn't-matter-anymore o'clock, the construction downstairs seemed never ending. Workers gutted the entire apartment, drilling directly into what seemed to be a subterranean extension of my bed frame. 

We tried to sleep and ignore the fact that we had front row seats to the most ubiquitous soundtrack of Paris: pure, consistent noise. It took a toll on all of us, but it was Jack that suffered the most. He became listless, a word whose meaning I fully understand now, because it is exactly what he became- totally lacking in “list”. 

While we decided to fight in defiance of the wall of sound, Jack had chosen flight, bolting out the front door one morning after I left it open while pleading with the workers downstairs, begging them  to give us just 30 more minutes of sleep. Ben found Jack in the building manager's apartment, clutching to her curtains and clearly on the edge. He was limp in our arms and hadn't eaten in almost two days. I decided our attempts at soothing him weren't cutting it. We grabbed a cab, leaving behind Mme. Dasilva, our concierge, who tsk-tsked us from her front door saying ,“Cats need to live in gardens!” 

 At home in Paris

At home in Paris

We went straight to the vet who sat us down and asked us how we were doing. “A little stressed?” he guessed and we nodded our heads in agreement. We told the kind animal doctor about our summer- our jobs, the rushing around, and the construction downstairs. It felt good to say it aloud. Jack wasn't the only one who needed a visit to the vet, it turned out.

A prescription for cat Xanax and a few other anti-anxiety pills later (for the cat, not us) and we were on our way back to an apartment that suddenly seemed less hospitable. 

Throughout the summer Ben and I had joked about needing a vacation house in the country- maybe we should just find a permanent house in the country?

Maybe Mme. Dasilva, who was an avid urban bird watcher and knew about the importance of being able to fly free, was right- maybe cats should be in gardens. Throughout the summer Ben and I had joked about needing a vacation house in the country- maybe we should just find a house house in the country? We immediately thought of the Loir-et-Cher region and the little village of Pouillé, where we met and fell in love during the 2014 grape harvest with winemaker Noëlla Morantin. Our imaginary country home started to seem real and the joke transformed into a plan of action. 

That brings us to September, waiting for a train to take us to our new home. Ben was carrying Jack and I had a backpack with enough clothes for two weeks of harvest and a brand new Moleskine notebook to record memories. Having already moved from his apartment in Nantes earlier that month, Ben's bed and things were waiting for us and made for a half furnished home (I was keeping my apartment until October). The purpose of the trip was to acclimate the transplanted Parisians (me and Jack) to our new surroundings and to participate in what was left of that year's early grape harvest. 

I was always incredulous of the fact that I, through some magical, mysterious chain of events got to live in Paris.

The best things that have happened in my life are the things I didn't even think were possible. Much like the move to the countryside, I can't remember the details of how I got the idea to move to Paris. To this day, I am still incredulous of the fact that I, through some magical, mysterious chain of events got to live in Paris.  In the days before moving to France from California, I remember that the only thing that seemed real was my plane ticket to Paris, proof that it was really happening. 

Paris started with a plane and the move to the country started with this train and a person brought to me through a different magical, mysterious, wine-fueled chain of events. A person so perfect I couldn't believe he was all for me. Standing there with him, my cat, and my backpack filled with grubby jeans and all the country clothes I'd need, I was ready to use this new ticket. 

Ben and I both harbored semi-secret ambitions of making our own wine, but we never expected that we would be doing so within weeks of moving to our new home.
 Late harvest days

Late harvest days

This train ride, the beginning of a new life, would lead to many unexpected opportunities. It would take us far from the city, but also bring us closer to dreams we thought were not yet within reach. Ben and I both harbored semi-secret ambitions of making our own wine, but we never expected that we would be doing so within weeks of moving to our new home. 

When we arrived, the harvest season had concluded for the winemakers- but the vines hadn't finished bearing fruit. In the period following the vendanges while the winemakers were tasting their juice and dreaming of the wine it would become, the grape bunches that were green weeks earlier began to ripen and glow under the late summer sun. 

Ben and I, along with our friend Juliette, asked if we could harvest these late bloomers- a request our winemaker friends were happy to accommodate. Gleaning grapes was a win-win situation for everyone- the vines would be relieved of nourishing the grape bunches that would otherwise be unused and a drain on their resources, we would get to try our hand at making a garage wine, and everyone would benefit from a little more wine to drink around the table together. 

 Bottling our Gamay

Bottling our Gamay

About a month later, we were putting our ruby red Gamay, pressed under our feet and made in a small shed in front of our house, into bottles. Jack rubbed up against our legs as we used a pitcher and funnel to bottle the fermented grape juice by hand.

It was late October by then and the waning autumn sun created enough warm spots for Jack to lay down and take one of his last outdoor naps of the season, in his very own garden. Ben and I soaked up the sunset while sitting outside- content in the knowledge that we didn't have to go farther than our own front yard to find good wine. 

 Château Dilling's first cuvée!

Château Dilling's first cuvée!