I had wondered how my currently lardy physique, in my limited and scruffy travel wardrobe, would go down in famously stylish France... but I found that the rural Perigord was less Parisien chic and more practical peasant-wear... perfect pour moi!
And so I settled in to enjoying this rural idyl: sleeping late, drinking fresh brewed coffee in the sunshine, practising my best Gallic shrug, sitting in the shade of the cherry tree and chatting or reading or daydreaming or snoozing or just asorbing the stillness and birdsong, trying to resurrect
my school French following 22 years of neglect, devouring my mom's incomparable home-cooking, consuming obscene quantities of tantalisingly pongy cheeses, guzzling glasses of vin rouge... bliss.
My visit also gave my folks an opportunity to take a few days off from the hard labour of building their house with their own fair hands. In a year they have gone from owning a bare patch of land to having a little home which they themselves have roofed, floored, wired, plumbed, walled, plastered, tiled etc etc, along with planting and tending a large vegetable
garden It's an impressive feat, and far from the relaxing retirement most people plan when they settle in France in their sixties. There's still a long list of jobs to be done, but it's coming along very nicely, and I think they had earned a few days off!
I met a few of their interesting ex-pat friends whom we visited for coffee or lunch, and also their extremely amiable French neighbours, who make use of the lack of fences to
wander over and say bonjour, bringing a bunch of leeks, or a basket of beans, or whatever else is thriving on their land that day. It's all very sociable and mutually supportive and a far cry from the
stereotype of the dismissive, haughty French. These are genuinely open, friendly people who have given my folks a huge amount of practical help in setting themselves up and are great craic into the bargain- Jean Louis, for example, fond of dragging my dad out of bed at an unearthly hour to take him fishing in the lakes, sneaked over on the sly and painted a prominent tomato yellow, to confuse the foreign gardeners!
Mom and I had a day out in the pretty town of Perigueux, where we walked by the river, strolled through thenarrow lanes, sat drinking coffee in a busy square, and indulged ourselves with gorgeous ice cream. Another evening we set off wandering through shady woodland, past shimmery green lakes and down
overgrown backroads into the village, with its stone old church and pretty shuttered houses. But most of the time was spent under the cherry tree- and what a great spot that is. I could have done with a little more of the same, but, with a busy week ahead of catching up with friends, I had to board a flight back to London, which, after my French escape, seemed all the more crowded, dirty, and smelly!