How to live a simpler life? Slower? More Zen-like? In a place with good food and wine and lots of sunshine? A few years ago we came up with an answer:
We moved to a French village, my prince and I.
It has an ancient church, a ruin of a castle, a small grocery store, a post office, a bar/coffee shop and five wineries. All that’s necessary for a simple, relaxing life.
What a lovely place!
So we decided to do some renovation to “refresh” (rafraîchir) our small house. Break out a little wall, put in a new shower, some new tiles, a new floor. You know how it goes (on and on and on).
What were we thinking?
The pounding, the hammering, the sawing, the noise! Where was the peace? The quiet? The house was covered in dust. We had a rotten wall, mystery wires, dead switches. The work! Fortunately we had help.
Let’s meet the neighbors!
When that renovation job was finished, we decided to invite all the neighbors in our street for an apéro which means drinks and appetizers. We wanted to be nice, to be friendly. I wrote invitations, in French, stuck them in the mail boxes.
We cleaned the house in preparation for the event. The dust from breaking down the wall was everywhere, in every nook and cranny. We swept and mopped and sweated.
What were we thinking?
What had happened to the relaxing life I had envisioned? Sitting by the pool? Reading a book? The Zen of it all?
So much to do!
We visited several local wineries and taste-tested various wines. This is a lovely way to spend an hour here or there. It puts me right into a Zen-like mood. Okay, maybe not Zen-like, but something like it.
Winery. Inside this old building they will offer you samples of various wines from their domain (estate).
We bought what we liked, and hoped our choices would meet with the approval of our French neighbors. As you know, all French people are wine experts (not). We also bought a bottle of pastis. A must-have we were told.
Then I set about fixing appetizers. I bought goat cheese, made my own wild fig preserves, baked blue-cheese crackers, cut cantaloupe cubes and stuck twirls of prosciutto on them, and so on and so forth.
What was I thinking?
The kitchen was a mess. I was a wreck. What if they all showed up? All 15 of them? Would they bring the kids? Our French was minimal. We often hadn’t a clue what people were saying to us. What were we going to do with 15 French-speaking people in our house?
I closed my eyes and tried to breathe a calming, Zen-like breath.
Here come the kisses! Faire la bise!
And then the neighbors arrived, all of them, bearing flowers, bottles of wine, and smiles.
And they kissed me, three times, all 15 of them including the two little kids. Which makes 45 kisses.
After the kissing orgy subsided, we moved to the terrace, and we poured wine and orange juice and one pastis. All our guests ate my various munchies with appetite. We spoke our sorry French and they complimented us, which was the ultimate of kindness, trust me. They drank more wine and said we’d made good choices and they admired our (adopted) nymph Daphne by the pool.
They said we were very welcome in their village and they all stayed for several hours and a good time was had by all.
Oh, no, here we go again!
And then they left, and I was kissed again, another 45 times, which added up to 90 kisses in one day. I have never been cheek-kissed that much. Not even on my wedding day.
Kissing in France is a national pastime, and for foreigners this faire la bise may take some getting used to. And yes, it takes a lot of time, all those kisses. But this is the south of France, and you need to take time for the good things in life. Go slow. Relax. Kiss a lot. Kiss everybody.
But don’t hug! That’s much too intimate for the French.
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