Researching a book on location in France is more than it’s cracked open to be. I say “cracked open” because you start with a Fabergé egg – the jeweled prospect of a long-term stay in France where you will write The Book (call it the omelette). Give the fragile shell of irreality a tap and a Bruegelesque scenario spills out. Example: flight Toronto-Paris, dog in hold, smooth. Train to Bordeaux not too stressful. Bordeaux train station awful because Bordeaux station is all stairs, no trolleys, and Tim and I have 4 large bags, an immense dog crate, 2 backpacks, 1 dog who needs to pee, and only minutes to make connection to Le Buisson. Arrival at final destination hell because first thing dog does on entering house is eat rat poison. We make him vomit (all over livingroom carpet). Max’s fecal matter is neon orange for the next few days, but no lasting damage.
When we try to open bank and internet accounts, situation goes from hell to Helleresque. Can’t get internet without bank account. Can’t get bank account without proof of residence (utility bills). Don’t have utility bills because house belongs to my sister who lives in California. Eventually a compassionate bank employee breaks the deadlock. Now we’re clicking, life is good, sun is shining (weather lousy in Ontario, we hear). Sun shining through magnifying glass burns a hole in my desk. Two day before my sister arrives, dishwasher, oven, fridge and phone die. We attend an outdoor theatre presentation. It is washed out by a powerful storm. As we drive back in a monsoon, avoiding fallen trees, someone accidentally powers down all the car windows. Back at house, electricity is out, and the kitchen is flooded. My sister puts gas in her diesel rental car.
When I’m not dealing with detours, if not outright road blocks (i.e., life), I do my book research. I realize that one does not have to know French to speak French. You can say, for example: “Regardez les pompom girls en blue-jeans qui mangent les chips au ketchup,” and you will be perfectly understood. On site, Tim and I hike the scrubby plateau of Gramat Causse and the foothills of the Pays Basque, spend time in the High Pyrenees, surrounded by splendid peaks, pure air, mountain livestock and dizzying switchback roads. You are warned when you enter tunnels to watch out for cows, who like the shade. They’re there all right, lying about, not inclined to move, eyes glowing trustingly in your headlights. Back in the Dordogne the hedgerows are full of sweet plums and blackberries. The trees are heavy with golden fruit. Tim and I are putting on weight (all that gastronomic research), and Max has become a thoroughly French dog (everyone calls him Maxsou, he is welcome everywhere and has developed his own star rating of restaurants). I am aware that existence here is secure, tranquil, and deeply satisfying. Guess I’d better get busy creating a murder or two.