Friday, 3 April 2015

Our return

Two years had passed since we were last in France. This time when we packed our bags in Australia we had a much clearer idea of what to expect when we touched down in Geneva airport, made our way through customs and were asked for the first time “Parlez-vous français?” by the unsmiling uniformed man behind the desk. Back then, eager to prove my linguistic competency I had lurched forward with an emphatic “oui” ready to put my skills to the test, in much the same way as I would have facing a University lecturer armed with my pre-prepared oral exam replies. This time of course it was over in seconds, “How long were we staying?” a quick glance at our passports and a polite “au revoir” and we were on our way. But I had changed too. There was no nervousness, no need to attempt extended conversation. It was all too simply like we were coming home. From the very first moment it was as if we had never left.

That feeling continued. We knew that we could be stopped at the Swiss-French border to produce our vignette, we knew that we did not have to stop if we were not stopped and we knew how to drive on the right-hand side of the road with decidedly fewer husband and wife moments than at our first attempt.

We drove straight to Talloires and I hopped out of the car to introduce myself to one of the three estate agents that I had not met in the from-over-the-seas purchasing of our long-desired French residence. It was the first time that we had seen the house, the final signing of the sale papers was scheduled for the following day and, despite a few puzzled ‘so, you bought your house over the Internet’ comments from our entourage I felt only excitement.

The house was in every way as charming as we had expected from the pictures and the reports that we had received. The signing of the papers, after a jet-lag-induced sleepless night, and in stark contrast to the preceding months of stress and struggle, was a fun formality and the opening of the front door with our own set of keys the happy realization of years of work. We were ready to begin the next phase of the adventure.

Of course we had forgotten the intricacies of living the French way. We had a whole house to set up and furnish, and needing to use most minutes of every day in the few weeks that we were there to do this, we tried to buy a couch between twelve and two. Non, non, non. Ah yes, it was lunch time. Time to eat, not shop. We tried to withdraw cash from the bank after midday. Non, non, non. Please come back tomorrow morning. I could order a withdrawal for the next day, euh correction, morning, but not actually do the withdrawal. And then there were the imposed weekly credit card limits and ATM maximum withdrawals despite the sum of money sitting in the account, which meant that we were effectively cash-strapped after day two and had to bide our time patiently until seven days after the beginning of our spending spree had elapsed before we could start up again.

But – it did not matter. I recommenced my morning ritual of opening the window shutters, which successfully slowed me down. No matter how urgently we were needing to rush it was impossible to not stop, look at the lake or the mountains, the stone walls of the houses around, the window lintels wide enough to sit in or the bubbles in the window panes, made when mercury was still used to fashion the flat glass surfaces, and feel the effects of time and people gone by.

Our eating habits, too, slowly metamorphosed back into the pattern that we had lived, loved and left. Cheese before dessert, and that after a slow aperitif and a hearty main course around 8pm, calls to our son to head out to do a quick boulangerie run, an obligatory café stop at our past village haunt and a long lunch at our new village café of the same name cemented our long-awaited return with a delightful twist. We were heading back...home.

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