We had done it!
The preceding months had been a blur of packing and paperwork, frustration and exhaustion and wiping down walls (and wiping down walls and wiping down walls) but we had made it. Now, prostrate in the bath of our 12th arrondissement, 6th floor Parisian apartment, I couldn’t keep from grinning.
A new life in Provence – wasn’t it the dream? Hadn’t Peter Mayle sold it to millions?
And here I was, a country girl from the south of Australia, on the cusp of her forties, about to embark on my own years in Provence. Pulling myself from the tub, I dried, dressed and fell into a jet-lagged coma, somewhat smug and completely content.
Three nights later, curled on the lumpy mattress of our Aix-en-Provence Airbnb, I was dragged from a dead sleep. Heart racing, eyes bugging, my mind screamed ‘Oh my God, what have you done? You’ve just left everything. You have no job, no friends, no family of your own (in-laws don’t count, right?). You don’t how to drive here, you don’t really know how to speak here. This has been a big mistake... a huge mistake.’
I didn’t sleep again that night.
Listen: What’s it like to run off from your real life with your kids and eat macaroons under the Eiffel Tower? Emily Lawrence Gazal tells us...
Six weeks in, and while the extremes are not quite so… extreme, I am still somewhere between the two. This expat life, I’ve learned, is a pendulum. Some days I stand in the parc in Aix, watching the light and the leaves and my daughters play and my heart is full to bursting. On others, a simple exchange with a sales assistant can leave us both exasperated to the point of tears. The joys of shoe shopping are gone, now it's an exercise in frustration as I attempt maths in French.
90=80 (which is 60+20) + 10= WHY?????
But there are small victories. Doing the school pick up in a backwards car, driving on the wrong side of road without sideswiping one of the stupidly parked cars on an annoyingly narrow village street, is immensely satisfying. As is completing the supermarket shopping minus the blank stares of miscomprehension (mine or theirs) or resorting to pigeon English (them)/mime (me) in an attempt to be understood.