Well that’s it, Christmas is done and dusted for 2020, and Andy & Tom are already back in the UK so that they can quarantine, before Tom heads back to Uni at the end of next week. The decorations have been put away, and I’m sat at the kitchen table, with the sun streaming through the open window, distracted by the wave of clouds, bumping across the top of the Luberon opposite.
It seems especially quiet in the house today, with the boys having left in the very early hours of yesterday morning, for their long drive, through France to The Tunnel, and on back to Devon. Millie and Pusscat are wandering around, like me, slightly unsettled by the change, with Pusscat standing outside the closed bedroom doors, yowling to be let in. I know from previous experience, that it will take me a few days to get used to the quiet, which seems so much more intense this time, after having had Tom home with us over Christmas too.
It was strange having our first Christmas without George, but he couldn’t take the extra time that would be needed for quarantine, but he seemed very happy back in Exeter, which was a relief!
It has been such a lovely few weeks, a very quiet time just catching up and spending the days doing some of our favourite walks around the valley. One morning we awoke to the valley filled with a dense, cold fog, so trundled off to the tip, taking a detour on the way back to grab some croissants from Simiane. It is always worth the trip, but as we approached the village, we emerged from the fog into a beautiful day, with bright skies and a warm sun.
Heading back to the house we realised that there was a thick layer of fog trapped in the valley, and that by climbing up to some of the villages we could easily get above it and enjoy the sun. As we drove down, back to the house, there were beautiful views of the Luberon, as it emerged from the sea of fog, with Saint Martin de Castillon appearing to be at the edge of a lake, rather than sitting on its promontory, high above the valley.
After munching the croissants with a coffee, we all bundled back into the car and drove across to Auribeau, where we would park, and walk to the top of the Mourre Negre, the summit of the Luberon that is directly opposite the house.
It’s a superb walk, but was even more spectacular as we drove out of the mist into the parking area, the sky changing from a pale grey, to bright blue in an instant, made even better by the donkeys waiting patiently for their heads to be rubbed
Heading up the trail, we climbed quickly, passing the ancient chapel, and continued on, above the silvery ‘lake’, with incredible views across the valley towards Mont Ventoux, still with flashes of white, where snow was resting in the deep gullys at the summit.
It was the most perfect day for the walk, warm and sunny above the clouds, with absolute peace as we climbed up to the summit road, where we stopped and caught our breath, sitting on rocks, looking south towards the milky sun, reflecting back from the silvery mist far below, that was enveloping the villages at the base of the hill.
On clear days you can see the Mediterranean glinting in the distance, but that day all that could be seen were rocky peaks, pushing their way above the heavy grey blanket, towards the sunlight . It was just glorious.
On the way back down the valley had started to clear and the villages emerged into the sun…..
And the views across to the dramatic, jagged snow-caps of the distant low Alps were just beautiful…..
This was just one of the walks we did. On other days we headed out to walk around the old Ochre quarries at Roussillon..
Or wandered up the river path at Fontaine de Vaucluse to pay a visit to the source of the Sorgue, which considering the time of year, was still sitting very low in its pool…
And on Christmas Day, we took a walk out through the lavender fields of the Saint Christol Plateau, before dropping down to visit the memorial to the Wellington Bomber that crashed there in WW2. As we started to walk down the rocky path towards it, despite blue skies, it started to snow. Just little icy flakes, but enough for me to be happy we were having a ‘White Christmas’ …
And by the time we arrived home, the Mourre Negre looked as if it had been dusted with icing sugar, a joy to watch as I cooked lunch, with a glass of fizz in hand.
I think if we’re honest, we never imagined that we would be using the new kitchen by Christmas, and we were right. Pere Noel (Pascal) visited 2 days before and left the new stable-door in the kitchen for us, but the porch that will connect the two rooms is still to be built, and seeing the doors Pascal has made so far, I am very happy to wait for him to be able to finish it all properly. The oak, stable-door is beautiful, with its studded, traditional provencal panel, and large glass-windowed top. It will let in the light, give us a great view through to the Luberon and also allow us to open the top half to let the breeze blow through the house in the summer, without allowing Millie to wander off.
So Christmas lunch was cooked on the ancient oven and hob, which took rather longer than expected, as the oven decided it really didn’t feel like heating up very quickly, if at all! But just over two hours later than planned, we sat down, raised a glass and tucked into a traditional lunch. It was all very gentle, laid back and un-stressed, rather the opposite to the rest of the year.
What was really nice over the few weeks was that we did manage to slow down and relax, especially Andy, who had worked so hard over the last three months. Before we arrived, he’d done so much of the work that was needed, and the cold nights, with the risk of frost, meant that the outside wall-building, and tile-laying jobs have come to a grinding halt.
That said, we made the most of Tom being here, with him helping us move plants and mixing several loads of concrete, barrowing them up the hill, to lay a base for a new wall to the side of the terrace. He made it all look horribly easy and we certainly wished he’d been able to be here whilst Andy was doing the bulk of the work over the preceeding weeks.
Looking back on 2020, it’s strange to think of all the changes that have taken place, and as we cut into the Christmas cake last year, we could never really have imagined what this year would be like. The simplicity of hopping between countries is a distant memory, and now each journey has to be planned carefully to enable necessary quarantine and self-isolation to take place.
Our day to day life here has shifted considerably too, with us keeping ourselves to ourselves, wearing masks whenever we venture out, and spending much more time wandering the hills around the house , than exploring new places, or ambling around markets.
It seems so odd not to greet people with traditional kisses, such an important part of French life, that seemed to stop overnight at the start of the pandemic. I never thought I would miss that gentle affection as much as I do (even with the slight stress of worrying is it 2 bises -South of the Luberon, or 3 bises where we are) – the distant bonjour, with the occasional elbow-bump or ankle-tap just isn’t the same. I only hope it returns eventually, although it’s hard to imagine at the moment
Normally, by now, we would be looking forward to our annual wedding anniversary trip to Nice and Menton, for the February Carnaval, but not this year. We have well and truly battened down the hatches and all our planning for trips away, and even long cycle trips, have been put on hold, and it’s hard not really having any idea when we may start to think about doing them again.
The main thing is though that we have managed to settle here, France is home now, and our future is here, which is one big positive to come from the year. Our applications for the new Carte De Sejour have been submitted and I’m starting to look at establishing my jewellery business here too, so we have much to get on with.
Like so many others, I won’t be sad to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror, and know that 2021 is not going to be a ‘walk in the park’ either, but as the equinox has passed and the days have started to get longer, it does force me to start looking forward, and I can only hope that by this time next year, we will all be in a much more positive place.
And all being well, I’ll be back on the bike sooner rather than later too …… Now that really would be something to celebrate!