Every now and then, when you travel, you find a place that feels just like ‘coming home’. It doesn’t necessarily make logical sense – it may be a sensation of having visited before or, perhaps, an ease at being in those surroundings. It may be an indefinable gut sensation of familiarity – a sigh of contentment on arrival or an affinity for the landscape.
For me, there is a distinct type of landscape that always swells my chest with emotion and inspiration.
As soon as I get into a landscape of rolling hills, where roads begin to twist and turn, I feel it. To be blunt – flat places leave me …well? – they leave me flat! But give me a curving river valley and I am a happy girl. It doesn’t have to be overly dramatic or high in altitude, but it has to roll and fold! There have to be unexpected moments as vistas burst into view along winding roads. Better still, there needs to be woodland or forest. Then, when I come to a village, my heart will truly sing if it is made up of stone cottages and walls. Bright flowers against golden warmth. A dry stone wall just floats my boat!! The more that I have ventured out in the world and explored different climes, I have started to notice this pattern in my sense of belonging.
Then there is my love of one particular culture and place – France. I call it a soul connection.
It was a bit like love at first sight except it always felt like I’d been there before; it felt like it wasn’t really ‘first sight’ at all. As a child of 6 or 7 years old, I was always fascinated by my big sister’s French textbooks. I have a distant memory of poring over them, soaking up the words and the sense of the French world that came off the pages. At the age of 8, we moved to live in the UK for a year. From there, we often ventured across the Channel to wander in our campervan through endless campsites and villages, sampling simple fare and local atmosphere. It always felt comfortable. I went on to study the language at High school and then for a year at university before suspending those studies and taking a different route. But, when I returned to France some years later, the words came flooding back. (There is a story – possibly apocryphal – that I spoke fluent French in my sleep when we lived in the UK, despite never having studied it by that age.)
But more than the words lingered within me. There is something about the entire package that makes my soul resonate. At the age of 34, I decided to return for a longer visit. Travelling alone for the first time after a divorce from a 10yr relationship, I chose France because I thought it would provide a place to push my personal bravery boundaries whilst still allowing me a foot in the door with the language; a challenge with a security of sorts. I felt totally at ease and proceeded to immerse myself in 5 months of aimless wandering about the countryside in search of a new sense of self, after years of trying to be someone else. It was like a new love affair. Blessed with an introduction to a family in the stunning Perigord region, I soon fell into a more realistic French life – and I didn’t want to leave. I returned a few years later to spend 6 months or more to try and find the means to make it a long term move. I wanted to be immersed in this corner of the world that felt like a natural home.
That passion now lives on in my heart. I love the culture and the people. I love their pride in heritage and their stubbornness. I love the enigmatic blend of dismissive ‘laissez-faire’ combined with an old fashioned ‘politesse’. I can’t even describe what I love without resorting to the language! I get excited by the design sense in the historic monuments when they chose to blend the old with the new. Some of the most stunning pieces of curatorial work can be seen in Romanesque abbeys in tiny rural towns. I love the old china and the dogs in restaurants. I love the food, the markets, the road signs, the supermarkets (oh, the supermarkets!). I adore that I can walk into a non-descript bakery on the side of the road at 2.30pm and order a fresh crunchy demi-baguette filled with slabs of ridiculously creamy butter with dry-cured ham and cheese that tastes like the best meal EVER! I love the long Summer twilights and the free-range kids, the sun-wisened gents playing petanque of an evening in a corner of the town square. It is a country of passion and respect, yet it never takes itself too seriously. Above all, I love the priority that is given to a long lingering meal with good friends steeped in conversation and debate. Here is a culture that values greatly the importance of personal connection and friendship – and food!
Travel affords us the ability to look at the patterns in our connections.
Much contemplation has gone into why I have this affinity for a place so far from my own upbringing. I know that it resonates with many of the values that were instilled in me by my parents. It reminds me a lot of the way that my mother approached entertaining, for one thing. I know that my heritage is tied to Northern hemisphere and a countryside more in tune with there. My love of good food cooked with passion and heart has an influence. But beyond all that, I simply conclude that I really have ‘come home’… that somewhere in a distant past – perhaps another life – I was a French girl.
A la prochaine visite….