My house in Flaujagues.
I’m sitting on a train heading toward Bordeaux. This is one of my favorite moments when I’m in France—the time when I get to contemplate my impending transition from the bustling, noisy city into the French countryside. It is more than meets the eye. It’s a mindset. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I grow fonder of peace and solace and the gently rolling hills of the country. Why?
When I was younger, I simply could not imagine why one would ever want to live outside the city. Bright lights and big cities—that was for me. Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Rome, London and Paris—why go elsewhere? This was where all the culture was, the restaurants, the champagne the interesting men and women. But somehow, slowly but surely, as if on schedule, it was the noise that I noticed first. After I had children, we eventually moved out of New York City and into the countryside about one hour north of town, which was propelled by my desire for a garden, for cooler, less sweaty-urine-smelling summers and for the color green. And the bigger digs didn’t hurt.
Gradually, after adjusting to the stillness, the inadequacy of the food and grocery stores, and the absence of exciting nights out, I began to appreciate the wilderness, the wildflowers and the chirping birds. I’ve seen the same happen in France. While I’ll never tire of Paris, after a week there, I now sense myself longing for that trip on the train to Bordeaux, where I’ll rent a car and drive to our house alongside the Dordogne River. Even quieter than our house in Westchester, New York, is Flaujagues, a village too small to even really count as a proper place, but which makes me feel as if I’m truly home. Why?
On the train I notice the fields of green and trees and small garden plots that every proper French countryman or countrywoman tills. The green gently lulls me into a calm that I don’t experience in the city. I love to see the rivers and creeks, and perhaps a fisherman set up for his day of solace and hope. The architecture is more rustic, the stone more pronounced and the people outside the capital much more friendly.
When I arrive nowadays at my home and take out my giant key that was probably made 150 years ago, I unlock a door that leads to a peaceful world that I never find elsewhere. This is the sense of tranquillity that I’ve been longing for, for years.
Perhaps it’s because so few people call me here. I hate the disturbance of a phone ringing. Perhaps it’s seeing egrets and other waterfowl in the mornings on the river in summer, fall, winter and spring, searching for their breakfast. Perhaps it’s the rooster that crows in the morning and through midday until I am definitively WIDE-AWAKE. Perhaps it is my garden that calls to me, or the smell of the 240-year-old house that used to be a monastery. Le Priolet, it’s called. Perhaps it’s the brothers who prayed and prayed for years on end here alongside the river. Perhaps somehow I am benefiting from their work? So while I love Paris, and nothing can replace her, a visit to the French countryside, which has its own enchantments, is a constant desire and source of inspiration.
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