I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person. Imelda Marcos would probably faint at the sight of my shoe closet. I rarely accessorize my outfits with jewelry, preferring to wear (without fail) the two rings and one necklace that are meaningful to me. The above-mentioned outfits are chiefly composed of Levi’s and T-shirts. I guess I always wanted to spend my disposable income on “experiences” long before the concept became fashionable. Food, wine, and travel: that’s what matters to me.
I returned to France, the land of food and wine, exactly two months ago. Not for a mere two or three weeks of vacations as I had done regularly for the past thirty-six years: this time, I was really going home for good. I closed my business and we sold our California house to renovate my grandparents’ small farm in the Lot. This could be viewed as the ultimate experience for me, a return to my roots and to the place that has been in my heart all my life (I recently posted on Facebook an old photo of my first stay at the farm when I was just two months old.)
But it doesn’t feel like I am home. Not yet.
Home can be an elusive concept for expatriates or people who move frequently. It takes a while to get comfortable with a place, to form emotional connections, to feel that you belong and can be yourself –your whole self– there. Surprisingly, this transition is turning out to be a bit more difficult than I expected considering that I would be en terrain connu. Granted, I no longer am who I was forty years ago. But a big factor is that I can’t settle into my new home. The renovation will take six months and, in the meantime, we are staying in my parents’ house. Although we are there all by ourselves, we can’t rearrange the space to better fit our lifestyle and I have to make do with Mom’s tiny kitchen and her quirky tools. I have been frustrated and rudderless.
This sense of suspended animation is uncomfortable but not completely foreign to me: I experienced a few such episodes in the past, usually when I was between jobs. I know the key for me is to regain (some) control over my surroundings and to build a new routine. I’ve also realized that in order “to be” I need “to have” my own things. We flew over with our dog, two suitcases of clothes, and two rollaboards filled with paperwork and computers. Although we received our 40’ container less than a week after our arrival, all 332 cartons were unloaded and immediately restacked in our garage. Each one is numbered and we do have a master list with corresponding descriptions but trying to find a particular object aptly illustrates the challenge of looking for une aiguille dans une botte de foin. As Rick opens his numerous boxes of tools and sets up his workbench, I’ve asked him to keep his eyes open for “my” tools: I’ll be immensely happier when I get my hands on my own vegetable peeler, my Microplane grater, and my Shun santoku knife! Just yesterday, he installed a new countertop in Mom’s kitchen and it’s already improving my mood and my efficacité.
The biggest challenge has been to get back to writing. No lack of inspiration: in fact, there are plenty of stories to tell. But I needed to have my own space. Getting set up in Dad’s old office (that also doubles as a laundry room…) or bringing pen and paper to the dining room table simply would not do. And I had to get a proper chair, one that would allow me to spend a few hours in front of the computer without prompting my lumbar vertebrae to go on strike.
So, today, I’m finally writing again. I boxed up some of Mom’s stuff and claimed sixty square feet of space in the veranda. Rick topped an old table with a fresh panel of melamine from Bricomarché and brought a power strip close by. I filled my glass with a diabolo menthe and set up my new chair behind my new desk, facing our woods. A chair with a view! And here I am, writing my first dispatch from the farm, trying not to get too distracted by the butterflies waltzing above the wild flowers. I have a good feeling about this…
Etre et avoir: to be and to have
En terrain connu: in known territory
Une aiguille dans une botte de foin: a needle in a haystack
L’efficacité (f): efficiency
Le diabolo menthe: a drink made with mint syrup and limonade (soda similar to 7-Up)