“You are definitely going to meet someone out there I just know it” chorused EVERYBODY.
Literally everyone who I told that I was going away to a writers retreat in the south of France to attempt to write a book told me that they were 100% confident that I would meet a man while I was here.
I’ll admit, while I know their intentions were well meaning, I did get rather miffed that this was overwhelmingly a lot of peoples first reaction. I mean I had just quit my well paid job, I was moving out of my apartment, I was packing up and shipping out to a remote mountainous place in the hopes of being inspired enough to achieve a life long ambition of mine. I was taking a big risk and putting all my chips on red. And red by the way, was me. But yet despite all of this the man who I had not yet met, a man who may not even exist, a man who will undoubtedly be scarred and marred and may ultimately break my heart, was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Pft!
Here’s to feminism eh !
But I’ll be honest with you all, I can understand why everyone might think that me meeting someone is the be all and end all. This blog being the outstanding forerunner.
I mean if I’m going to put my love life out there it’s bound to receive some opinions back one way or the other. But I also think it’s because ultimately I do want to be in love. To paraphrase SATC’s Carrie – “I am someone who is looking for love. Real Love. Ridiculous… inconvenient… consuming.. “can’t live without each other” love.”
Now I can see a few of you out there rolling your eyes, probably the married ones among you reading this thinking ‘sure sure’. Cause believe me I know that relationships only on occasion contain the kind of love I refer to above. I know most of the time it’s “The crappy, annoying, overwhelming, if-he-breathes-one-more-time-i’ll-kill-him kinda love”. But I’d happily take that too. Because all love is good love in my opinion.
Esther Rantzen put it brilliantly on a recent episode of ‘Celebrity First Dates’ when she said “I have lots of people to do something with but nobody to do nothing with”. That’s Life, some might say. And you’d be right. But I’d still love nothing with someone than nothing with no one.
Because believe me in the south of France, there is a whole lotta nothing to do. Well certainly in the region I am currently residing in. My home is a small cottage, in a petite little village in the ancient Langededoc region. The village is called Labastide Esparbairenque, a place whose letters in its name almost outnumber its inhabitants. There are just 54 people living here full time in the row of houses that face out towards a spectacular view of the valley. Most have lived here all their lives and have ages that start with the numbers 7,8 and 9. A visit to the local graveyard proves that mountainous living is good for you. For one thing only a third of the graveyard is occupied with all of those interred having lived for almost 100 years according to the dates etched into the marble marking their lives.
The graves here are more like crypts, above ground, due to the excess rainfall that hits in winter. One such crypt in the corner of the graveyard beside a rose bush has the name ‘Ernest Garcia’ emblazoned across it in gold lettering. Which is rather worrying because Monsieur Garcia is alive and well, in fact I passed by him this morning on my way to the source, the spout where clean and clear mountainous water flows freely keeping us all hydrated in this hot summer sun. ‘Bonjour’ I said to this spritely 94 year old who walks up steep hills with a cane and a weaved basked slung over his shoulder containing legumes fresh from his garden. He became the most eligible bachelor round here after his wife Luciene died nine years ago. It is in fact Luciene who occupies the grave. Even though it’s her husbands name which is emblazoned across it. I eventually noticed the words ‘wife of’ written in small carvings just to the side of his name. And in the corner of the bottom part of the crypt a small faded picture of her, the year of her birth, the year of her death and her name is etched in gold.
Ultimately though this is his grave, and his family will occupy it both before and after even he does.
I don’t know how to feel about this.
My feminist kicks in and and says how awful that even in her grave she has been reduced to just ‘the wife of’. A label that no doubt she carried for almost all her life.
Then the traditionalist in me pipes up and reminds me that this is just how things are done here and how sweet it is in a way and how I should be so fucking lucky to have ‘the wife of’ listed on my eventual tombstone.
I look at her picture and the romantic in me chimes in and I start getting a little teary thinking how sad it is that she has died, how lovely that they were married for so long and how much he probably misses her, before ultimately my cynic jumps in cutting short my romantic notions by reminding me that in fact they probably feckin hated each other and stayed together as long as they did because well, what else were they going to do in this tiny little village on the edge of nowhere.
Monsieur Garcia is a ‘fan of the ladies’, according to John, the owner of the retreat here, who advised me on my first day that if I wanted to buy eggs I could buy them from him but that I was to ensure I didn’t allow him to get too close as he tended to have wandering hands and a twinkle in his 94 year old eyes. I made a face and then laughed, after I was assured he was harmless. Of course my hopes were still very much hedged on the surety that I would in fact be meeting the man of my dreams here and unless I wanted to be France’s answer to Anna Nicole Smith I decided to avoid Mr Garcia’s eggs and bought them instead from the lovely Madeleine an 83 year old woman who lives on the edge of the village. She is adorable and talks to me incessantly in a heavily accented country french, I understand almost everything she says but she does not understand me when I attempt to reply in broken Parisian. So mostly now I just nod and smile and say oui and wow and non when I am supposed to. I thought she lived alone in her little house whose walls are adorned with pictures of her grand children until one day I knocked on her door and a tall man with bushy eyebrows and a remarkable resemblance to the BFG answered the door. “Um is Madeline here” I asked, wondering for a second if I had knocked at the wrong house. “Oui, Oui” I heard her say shuffling up behind him. “This is my husband” she said introducing me to the wrinkled man who smiled at me revealing a gappy grin. “She wants eggs” she instructed her husband who dutifully went off towards the chicken coop to retrieve half a dozen cream coloured eggs for me. While he was gone Madeline told me how her husband had a house near Mazamet, how he lived there and she lived here all their married life. He came and spent two nights with her, she went and spent two nights with him and the other three days they slept on their own in their own homes. They had been married for over 60 years and this was how they had conducted themselves even when their children were small.
The woman was a genius I declared later as I sat eating my poached eggs and avocado. Surely she has cracked the secret to happy married life, having your own space, and seeing them for just enough time every week that you start to miss them when they are gone.
Chance would be I fine thing I thought glumly as I stirred my sugar into my tea. For you see I’ve been here 6 weeks now and the man of my dreams has sadly failed to materialise, I have just two weeks left here and the chances of a man appearing who looks like Brad Pitt, with the personality of Channing Tatum, the intensity of Ryan Gosling, the voice of Ed Sheeren and the bank balance of Richard Branson is sadly slim to none. To be honest with you I’d settle for the looks of Ed, the age of Brad, the moodiness of Ryan, the sordid past of Channings and …well lets stick with the bank balance of Branson’s. But so far men in La Muse have been very very thin on the ground.
In my time here I have honestly met some of the most remarkable, amazing, inspiring people, who I know will remain my friends for life, it just so happens that they have almost all been women.
Of the 28 people who have come and gone during my time here just seven of them have been men. And don’t get me wrong those seven men were lovely and if I were Snow White and they were dwarves it would have been awesome, as no doubt my having met each one of them will ultimately help me on my journey towards meeting my prince charming.
There’s been the Jude Law lookalike with a heart of gold and an enlightening Siberian past who, unfortunately for me, has a gorgeous Romanian boyfriend. The married Australian authour in his 70’s who was here with his octogenerian wife. Despite being together for 33 years they only got married two years ago and acted like newlyweds the whole time they were here. Then there was the neurotic forty odd year old New Yorker who was only here for a week. He referred to his Rabbi quite a lot and boasted about how he had never been married because he liked women a little too much to ever be married to one. Next there were two lovely men, one a professor of Economics from Germany, the other an Ecologist and poet from Santa Fe, both of whom were married, both of whom had children, both of whom were a pleasure to be around but neither of whom would be my one true love. The second last to arrive was a 26 year old hipster from Hackney who was here to write his second book about his family who hailed from the East End of London. He was a nice lad but far too young for me, and in fact, recently engaged.
The last of my potential suitors arrived yesterday. Myself and the rest of the women, most of whom are single and most of whom probably thought that they too would meet the man of their dreams while here all placed bets on what we thought he would be like. A Hot 32 year old Australian, maybe a nerdy looking German, no no a wistful English man for sure…. Sadly he turned out to be exactly what deep down we knew he would be, given that his name was Ronald: A seventy year old American man with a rotund belly, drooping eyelids and grey thinning hair, here to write his third book which he proudly informed me was ‘a dirty novel’.
So it seems my chances are running out. And it won’t be long now before I will ‘strap the pieces of my life onto my back and go back to the world of guns and bombs’ as my dear friend Meghan wrote in a poem about this place and the sadness we all feel when leaving it.
I have written a lot here, but not enough to complete the book I came here to write.
What I have learned while here is that writing is such a lonely endeavour. You must dig deep within yourself everyday to sit down and write, allowing words to pour out of you, words that ultimately you will probably end up deleting when you reread your work, or when like me, you realise half way through the book that one crucial piece was missing….a plot.
Much like my book one crucial piece is missing from my life too and that is, despite myself, my cycnicism, my feminsim and everything else, that crucial thing is someone being in my corner, who loves me more than anything despite my many flaws.
And believe me I’ve added at least another 7kgs of flaw to my body since I got here. I have tried to excercise every day, but nothing will stop the softness that has crept across my belly and my hips, evidence of the copious amounts of cheese and wine that has passed my lips almost every night. Not that I regret it. I have enjoyed every morsel. I have savoured every crouton, topped with fromage, slathered in juicy fig jam. Every glass of wine I drank in the company of my new found friends passed down my throat where the echo of a laugh still lingered. My mother told me to enjoy every moment while I was here, it just so happened that lots of those moments have involved food and I sure have taken her advice quite literally.
So now, well now there is just more of me to love.
I’ve also stopped wearing make up and scrape my hair up into a messy knot on top of my head every day. My daily attire consists of loose baggy shorts and a v necked top revealing my bare arms, something I have not done for years in respectable company, simply because I just don’t like my arms very much. But here none of that matters. People are meeting me for the first time and I decided that they would have to just like me or lump me, bare skinned, bare boned, and baring my soul on an almost daily basis.
In a few more weeks my money will run out and I will be forced back into the workplace, wearing work clothes and a daily schedule determined by my working day…. and all of this will have been just a distant memory.
I want the next job I take to be the right one for me. Less stress and more work life balance is going to be crucial.
Anna, the amazing English grandmother who was here writing a book about gender reassignment based on her six year old granddaughters transition from being a little boy to a little girl, asked me a question.
We were sitting slap bang in the middle of village foyer where a soiree was taking place. My fellow Musers as well as most of the village had just attended a concert in the big church, the one surrounded by all those graves of villagers past. There was much joviality, wine flowing and food being served from a giant paella dish. I remarked on how happy I was and how hard it would be for me to go back to work.
“So, blue sky thinking” Anna said, looking at me with her deeply caring and soulful eyes “If you could be anything, what do you think you’d do that would make you happy?”
I thought about it for a minute, then looked away into the distance. Eventually I looked back at her and surprised myself by what I said.
“You know what, I think I just want to be in love. I know that probably sounds stupid and naive and I know relationships are hard, but I think whether I worked as a check out girl in Tescos or whether I ran the free world, I don’t think I’ll ever truly be happy until I have found love. Until I can come home from a hard days work, whatever work that may be, and have someone to snuggle up to in bed and ask me how my day was, I worry that until then, until that day comes that perhaps I’ll just never truly be happy”
Anna who is divorced and semi retired looked at me and said
“Well that was a brave answer, but at least you are being honest with yourself”
And I agree with her.
We have to be honest with ourselves in order for us to truly accomplish what it is we want in life.
My brother mailed me yesterday to inform me that he has started reading my blogs and he thinks they are “fucking hilarious”. My brothers had avoided reading them until now for fear they would accidentally read about my sordid sex life which clearly is not the case. He asked me when I was posting my next one and that after my 6 weeks in France he was expecting me to post one titled ‘The Frog’.
Sadly Tinder in my tiny french village is not exactly hopping, and while I had hoped to kiss many a Frog while here in order to find my Prince charming, it would seem that the lilly pads surrounding me remain unoccupied.
Maybe Mr Garcia has eaten them all, I hear he is partial to a frogs leg or two.
So while I am sorry to disappoint all you lovely people out there who assured me that I would meet someone while in France, I want you to know that I do still believe in the fairy-tale and I am assured that one day my prince will come. He’s just been busy preparing himself for me, so that when we do eventually meet all our stars will have aligned and we will hop into each other lives no doubt living happily ever after….
I realise of course that there are often other women in these fairytales we get fed as children. The mean old witches who lure people to their fate with things like breadcrumbs and poisoned apples. I hope I do not end up like one of them.
But if I do, I’m definitely going to live in a house made of cheese with a free flowing fountain of wine where all my friends would come and watch me stir my cauldron, scaring the bats away with our laughter or cackles as people often call them.
At least then when I die I’d have the crypt all to myself, my name alone emblazoned across the top.
“Here lies a wicked old witch” my tombstone would read
“……who always believed in love”.