Best Intentions

Time is passing quickly and my good intentions for the new year to write a monthly blog fell by the wayside. Life is like that here as we immerse ourselves in the community. "Winter" was cool and rainy but compared to most other places, passed quickly and by late February, we could see the first signs of spring.  We are now into full spring mode. This week the Tourism Beziers office posted a contest for the best picture that represents spring. We were astounded to see that our house and staircase was one of the contest pictures. What was even more amazing was the it won the prize for the most votes. We thank K. Gregoire, the photographer, for so beautifully capturing the spring scene.

Life continues to be full of surprises here. Last week, a friend and I sat on the back terrace of the Grand Cafe for some morning art practice. With our paper and paint spread out before us, we discussed the "paysage" and how we could best re-create the scene. Before long, we each had an emerging image on our paper and were working diligently when we were interrupted by a local woman who leaned over us and made admiring comments. 

I had seen her around for several years but had never been introduced. It turns out that she is a portrait artist from Paris who has lived in the south of France for many years. She gave us tips for our work, told us about her work as an art restorer and then quickly drew a sketch and handed it to me. It will soon be framed and will hang in a prominent place. 

And Another Year Passes in a French Village

It seems to be the pattern that as the rush of Christmas and New Years passes, there is quiet time to reflect on the comings and goings of the past year. Life in a French village rarely has large, cataclysmic changes and Servian in 2016 was no exception.

As we approach the village from the south, the skyline spreads across the elevation in the same linear way as always. The church sits at the highest point with a continuous downward slope of houses demarcating the old town from the new, At the edge of town there is a new, modern "caserne" housing the volunteer fire department, evidence of a new social housing development and the new gendarmerie compound. In the old town, there is not much change except for the facades of the "maisons de village" with their new coats of stucco giving the "centre ville" a rejuvenated look.

One has to look carefully in the bar, sunny benches or the markets for old familiar faces. Several went missing this year and seeing the black condolence boxes outside various homes one knows that they will not be returning. We were personally touched this year as Monique's husband, Pierre died after a brief illness. It's good to see some village regulars still around: paunchy, white-bearded Bruno who only dons long pants after the temperatures dip below 5 degrees. Apparently, he was most disappointed this year as he was not asked to play Pere Noel at the Christmas Market festival; Claudie, the Parisien artist who gave up her dentures and fashionable clothes when she moved south, frequents the local haunts pulling her little dog behind her as she chats away to herself. One also sees new faces around and from the scuttlebutt,  the newcomers are Swedes escaping the cold, replacing those from the UK who have seen their money devalue and the French dream fade. Canadians and especially westcoasters apparently now outnumber the Irish in settling around the area.

Life for us continues much the same. We have welcomed visitors to our new home and from all accounts, they have enjoyed exploring the village and the region. Isa continues to cater and now provides cooking classes for visitors. Gwen and Nicola have had a good first year with their B&B, Le Petit Moliere. Arnaud le Gourmand has added interesting local and regional products to his grocery shelves.  

The philosopher, Alain de Botten wrote a book entitled "How Proust Can Change Your Life". In it, he describes Proust's attention to detail, quiet and enjoyment of simple things. As I sit here writing this blog, I watch an elderly man walk up the staircase outside our front door. Slowly and painstakingly he climbed the old, worn steps. As he reached the top, he paused and took time to remove some stray leaves from the succulents growing out of the tufa rockery bordering the walk. For me, he epitomized much of village life as we watch and learn from how intentionally life is lived here. Le Temps Trouvé.

 

Notes on a French Village

Servian continues to amaze me! Our new house has given us the chance to meet new neighbours and with it some lovely surprises. Our next door neighbour, Isabelle, is a gourmet cook and specializes in traditional French cuisine. During my recent trip to inspect the new house, she invited me to join her for coffee on the outside step, "un petit pause" before returning to her fig preserves for her restaurant. It was during this conversation that I learned about her passion for sharing her knowledge and how she hopes to be able to offer small, intimate cooking classes for visitors. What a gift to our village and for our guests. I have tasted several of her dishes and know from experience that her reputation is well-deserved.

Arnaud le Gourmand, is a small grocery store that opened up on the Grand Rue. He specializes in local produce, wine and specialties. It's interesting to watch how the village is embracing this return to small stores and away from the large, impersonal mega-stores. I wish him well.

The daughter of the previous owner of our house shared with me a view of Servian from several decades ago. As we wandered down one very small, twisty street, she pointed out how many stores lined this street. It wasn't called "Rue de Commerce" for nothing. The were two bakeries, one pastry shop, two hairdressers, a butcher and a variety of other small, independent merchants. I wonder if these days will return.

Dominique is an enterprising young man with deep roots in Servian. He has taken his love and knowledge of local wine-making and turned it into a viable business in the nearby town of Pezenas. He is collaborating with local artists and providing a venue for them to display they work while clients come for specialized tastings and courses on Languedoc vintages. He also organizes tours, meals or special events. What's amazing about all of this is the reasonable cost. Because he is fluent in English and French, he can connect with both locals and visitors with ease.     

New Beginnings

The only constant in life is change and for us, it means we have purchased another house in the village. This time, it we have chosen a bigger home with more connection to village life. Our new home is located off the central Place and is part of an original wall that likely existed in the very early days of habitation. Needless to say, it has gone through many changes and now has all the modern conveniences but still retains some of the charm of the past. While we will add our own touches to the house, there are many features to remind us of the families who lived there before us. 

We were delighted to discover that the house at one time belonged to a well-known, local artist. Perhaps, his talents still float around the house to inspire others.

We are looking forward to welcoming a new generation of visitors to Servian to share our house and the region.

There is an excitement about taking on this new venture but it means that we will be saying goodbye to the house that, for thirteen years, has been the focus of our dreams of living the French life. We can only hope that new owners will find "le temps retrouvé" as we did.

We will post updates as we settle in and make small changes. Watch for the Swan's newest adventure.