My life in a stella advert
After relocating to rural France, Julia Molony finds that her finely honed city-dwelling skills are redundant
Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30
This column reaches you from deepest provincial France, where I have temporarily fled, and am in intensive training to become a contemporary Emma Bovary.
After a lifetime of committed, caffeine-fuelled city living, I am joining the rest of the mildly traumatised, financially screwed middle-classes, fleeing the capitals and their culture, crime and 24-hour drinking, to hunker down in the arse-end of nowhere and pray for a more peaceful life.
Happily, it just so happens that my other half's family come from a red-bricked medieval town, with a river running through it, in the south-west of France.
Soon after we met, this fact swiftly became one of the things I liked best about him. There are, it turns out, just as many breeze-blocked, depressing kips in France as in any other country, and had he come from one of those, he might have been altogether less desirable as a package.
But here, it is ancient, ridiculously pretty and packed full of patisserie. It's hot in the summer and quiet as a morgue in the winter time, and generally looks like the set of a cheesy romcom starring Juliette Binoche.
So after a decade in London, the plan is that we will relocate here for a little while to take stock. We will repair our nerves with a diet of duck fat, foie gras and red wine, and contemplate the therapeutic benefits of hand-rearing chickens.
Of course, it's not a decision I have taken blindly or lightly. I have seen the films Chocolat and Amelie (both at least twice). Most pertinently, I have seen French Kiss - the one with Meg Ryan, where she falls in love, against her better judgement, with a grubby, amoral, chain-smoking French man. Or at least, with the firmly American Kevin Kline giving it the full 'string of onions and moustache' act. They end up living happily ever after in a vineyard in Provence.
I would guess that Kevin Kline alone has been a major influence in my recent, most important life decisions.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I am well aware there is about a 40pc chance I will be back and screaming for Starbucks by Easter. As I gradually settle in, struggling to get by in halting French, I am slowly coming to realise that there are plenty of things I have taken for granted in my former life that are no longer accessible to me here.
And a gingerbread latte is just the tip of the iceberg. English-speaking cinema, Marmite and raucous drunks are among the many things that I already miss.
People talk down our "convenience culture", but I'm starting to see the positives, having been caught out too many times, desperate for a pint of milk or loaf of bread at 1.30pm on a Tuesday, with nowhere to turn, because the whole town has closed up shop and gone to lunch.
Routine, never something I've got along with that well, is a religion here. Shopping, according to local orthodoxies, is done mostly at the market. Which is chocolate-box charming, of course, but only takes place once a week, before noon. Most Saturday mornings I have barely peeled back the duvet by the time they've packed up their charcuterie and legumes, leaving nothing but a few sad cabbage leaves in the gutter for the latecomers.
The survival resources I have built up over three decades of capital-city living are limited to the ability to track down a bottle of vodka at any time or day and night, and a finely tuned antenna for potential muggers on public transport and when walking down dimly lit residential streets.
These do not serve me well here, where the mortal dangers are not adolescents wielding knives, but boredom and saturated fats.
Thank god Ryanair fly to the local tin-pot airport. They were once my nemesis. Now those blue-and-yellow aircraft are starting to look like a lifeline.