Monthly Archives: March 2012

The real France

Yvette rolls her eyes and clucks her disapproval. “Do you remember the Parisian who lives at number 23? We haven’t seen her for ages!” Though Yvette is 82, she keeps a close watch on everyone. Yvette lives with her 85-year-old brother Maurice. “Living with your sister is actually worse than being married,” he jokes. “I can’t divorce her.”

Yvette and Maurice are our neighbors in Anduze, a village in the south of France where Spouse and I bought our first house. The region enjoys an abundance of wine cellars, hiking trails and medieval castles. Unfortunately, unemployment is very high. After a few blissful years spouse and I had to move to the other side of the country. We let our house in Anduze. Maintenance offered us the chance to revisit.

We were welcomed back with open arms. “It’s not the same without you,” our neighbor Monique said. “Are you moving back?” the baker’s wife asked hopefully. “I don’t allow Dutch people on my terrace,” the owner of our favorite café said with a grin, “but I’ll make an exception for you”. We were informed about births, deaths, the dry weather and the shortcomings of monsieur the mayor. This is no simple gossip. It’s care for the village, its inhabitants and surroundings and comes with sunshine and the easy lifestyle that characterizes the south of France.

The contrast with our new habitat couldn’t be bigger. People here don’t know their neighbors. They don’t care who the mayor is and what decisions he takes. The weather allows for lush vegetation, which people fight with trimmers and chainsaws. They are too stressed to tolerate the mooing of cows, the leaves of a tree on their terrace or a teenager turning up his music. There’s no café here, the only place for people to meet is in the traffic jams morning and night. The average income is twice as high as in Anduze but people seem four times as unhappy.

When I say goodbye, Yvette grabs my hand. “Will you say hi from us to your girlfriend?” Maurice asks me if we’ll come back soon. I’m already dreaming of it.

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Amsterdam is an excellent city to leave and arrive in, the Dutch writer Simon Carmiggelt said. I prefer arriving.

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