Quite frequently, P. and I have conversations about where we would prefer to live that, however, never seem to find a clear resolution. In fact, I find this question one of the most difficult ones to answer. With our heart constantly drifting between la campagne and la ville (the countryside and the city), the question that we keep asking each other comes back to us the same: “T’aimerais vivre où ?” (where would you like to live?)
Do you know?
There are many reasons why we like to live in Boston. It is la ville without the shortcomings of one. While we are able to enjoy the benefits that a big city offers — with its diverse culture, interesting architecture and numerous universities — we also have ample access to nature with gorgeous beaches, mountains and open fields nearby. But I have met people who liked none of the previous, as hard as it is to believe! Sometimes, they tell me that they hate the beach because they cannot stand the thought of getting sand on their bodies, or they find the countryside boring, with not much to do. Moi ? I would not hesitate for a second. La campagne is really where I feel comme un poisson dans l’eau (like a fish in water), in complete harmony with the surroundings. Let me say this: you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. After all, I grew up in the countryside.
So before I stopped in Paris, I visited my family in the countryside. From there, my journey looked as if it took off in exactly the same way as it did only a few months before, when I came in May. Except that this time, I managed to hop on the newly open extended TGV line connecting Paris to Metz. What a welcoming change! I even hardly recognized la gare de l’Est.
It only took me one hour and a half instead of the former three before I arrived at the train station in Metz. I was greeted by my brother B. who came to pick me up as my parents were still away on a trip themselves. Beside, they did not know that I was coming. C’était une surprise ! After an hour drive, we finally reached the village, à la campagne.
When we arrived, Ortie the black cat was meowing by the door leading to the back garden. “Regarde-la, cette sale bête,” my brother said with a frank smile, teasing me. “Elle ne pense qu’à bouffer !” (look at this little devil; she only thinks about eating). I smiled back because I knew well what he was getting into. B. knows that I am actually quite fond of Ortie, and that I have warned many times that one day, I would take her with me back to the States. “Mais non, elle est si mignonne,” (she is so cute) I responded swiftly, feeling Ortie rub and purr against my legs.
We prepared a healthy lunch together — quinoa and sautéed cumin-flavored zucchinis and carrots, with a fresh salade verte (green salad) — all vegetables freshly picked in the garden. A wholegrain baguette and fresh faisselle cheese* bought on the way completed our meal. As I was savoring every single mouthful of this food, I tried to remember the last time I had eaten faisselle. Maybe the year before? Since I have lived in the States, I have not yet been able to find it anywhere, to my biggest regret; I love this type of fresh cheese.
Since B. had to head back to work that same afternoon, I was then left by myself for a few hours. I paused and tried to think about what I should do. I sat down and felt a big yawn stretch my entire face. I walked to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror to find red, puffed-up eyes showing clear signs that I was indeed quite tired. The thought of taking a nap sounded quite appealing, yet after I looked outside and saw the clear blue sky, I suddenly felt a new burst of energy move through my entire body. I was too scared to miss a second of that moment and instead of a rest, I decided to take a walk outside the village. And this is what I discovered.
* A faisselle (pronounced feh-sell) is a type of unsalted soft curd cheese deriving its name from the container in which it is sold (the recipient is in fact pierced with small holes to allow the whey to drain out).
There were the same cows and pigs, the same trees and fields that I remembered from my last trip. The signs of the end of summer and beginning of fall were obvious, however. Nature was slowly changing, giving way to a different type of landscape. Every morning, the fog was throwing its white veil over the fields that made everything look dramatic and magical.
One of the apple trees found at the end of my brother’s back garden was so full and heavy with ripe fruit that many apples were already lying on the ground. In fact, over the weekend that followed, my sister-in-law G. and I kept laughing at how obsessed with picking the apples maintenant (now) my brother was. “On va cueillir des pommes ?” (Shall we go and pick some apples?) he kept asking when instead, G. and I were obviously more interested in lying on a deck chair, greedy to feel the still generous sun on our faces and legs. We managed to fill a few baskets with apples that B. carefully lined in cagettes, to be kept for the winter. And, because this year the trees did not give as many apples, they decided to keep the fruit for them to eat instead of making apple juice.
In our village, two minutes away from my parents’ house, my brother and his wife own a meticulously renovated, old house that they have kept extending over the years. Whenever I come back, they always seem to have a new project. Last year was the addition of the outdoors pool with newly planted trees.
Every corner of the garden is welcoming for retreat and rest. I found the same amazing orchard that my brother takes care of with lots of love: fruit trees, colorful flowers, a multitude of plants and bushes next to which a small stream runs through, and vegetables that I am jealous of. With a bench to sit on or a hammock to lie in at every five meters, I had found a haven of peace for the full length of my stay.
B. also wanted to show me the gorgeous field of flowers that is part of a project at his work. “Ca s’appelle la prairie fleurie du jardin passerelle, (It is called the flowered meadow of the footbridge garden) B. told me when I asked. Stunningly beautiful! On the way there, since we were on foot, we stopped to pet Monsieur Y’s newly born lambs. I could not help but remember the many summers spent at my uncle’s Henri le moutonnier, where my aunt and I used to give the baby bottle to the weakest lambs. “Je ne sais pas pourquoi, mais j’ai toujours eu cette attirance pour les moutons et les chèvres,” I told my brother (I have always been attracted by sheep and goats). This always triggered jokes played on me by my kiwi friends while I lived in New Zealand. There were indeed many sheep to pet in New Zealand, I soon realized!
“Regarde, on peut les manger, celles-la” B. said (you can eat these ones) when he held a bunch of bright orange flowers to me. I had never seen these small flowers before. What were they?
“Ce sont des capucines, he added (these are nasturtium flowers).
For an entire week, my daily routine looked about the same: wake up, have breakfast, go to the garden to get vegetables or sit on a bench, cook lunch with G. or my mum, eat and chat, take a walk, nap, pet the cat, take snapshots, go for a run, cook again, eat and chat, skype with P. and sleep. One afternoon, I even made my amaranth quinoa chocolate cake, with flours bought at the local organic store.
On the only Sunday I was staying with my family, we drove for a short fifteen minutes to l’Écluse *16, a small tucked-away restaurant in Alsace, to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Located by a canal where we strolled after lunch, the place itself is unpretentious — although the old-fashioned interior décor proves that they would be in great need of some design advice — but the food was delicious and creative, prepared almost exclusively with locally grown produce.
*écluse (n.f.) means navigation lock in French
My mum also wanted to show me the new small local fromagerie (cheese shop and factory) that had only opened in May, where we bought flavorful cumin cheese, faisselle and yogurt. “Ils ne font pas de fromage de chèvre ?” (Don’t they make goat cheese?) I asked her. “Ah non, l’élevage des chèvres, ce n’est pas fréquent ici. Il faut plutôt aller dans le sud de la France pour en trouver.” (Raising goats is not common over here. You have to go to the south of France to find them.) I was quite impressed by the cheese actually as every single item we bought was tasty.
Perhaps because I was so much into a quiet mood, I did not have much desire to be in town. Yet, when G. suggested a shopping day in Strasbourg, I did not need to be asked twice. Beside, I could not even remember the last time I visited this city, so I was rather looking forward to it.
On my last day, as I was walking to my brother’s house, my attention was caught by le pommier (apple tree) behind my parents’ neighbour’s house. I found it so beautiful as it stood high and tall, right there in the middle of Monsieur F.’s field, that I stopped and pulled my camera out.
“Tu prends une photo du coucher de soleil ?” (are you taking a picture of the sunset?) Monsieur P. said when he saw me, sticking his head outside the window.
“Non, du pommier,” (no, from the apple tree) I responded.
“Ah, il est malade, il n’a donné qu’une pomme cette année.” (It’s sick. It only gave out one apple this year)
I looked back at the tree, trying to see signs of the sickness that he was referring to but couldn’t see any. Malade ? Vraiment ? It looked so strong and firmly planted.
I felt a pinch in my heart. This tree had always been there as long as I remembered. I wondered how old it could be. Seeing it die made me sad.
Would it be there next year again? I secretly wished so.
“So, what do you think?” P. asked me when we skyped with each other, one last time before I left. “La campagne ou la ville ?”
“After a week like this one? No question, La campagne. But wait, I am off to Paris tomorrow, so who knows! I might change my mind again.”
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