cats

August: The Learning Year

A view from our village

A view from our village

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 year of surprises, some exciting and fun- especially when we learned new things about ourselves, our hidden talents, and our ability to adapt.

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.

Good wine, BBQs, and matching overalls- all keys to lasting friendships!

Good wine, BBQs, and matching overalls- all keys to lasting friendships!

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.

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.

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.

Early, innocent days of my first potager

Early, innocent days of my first potager

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.....

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!