Today’s instalment comes from American author Paulita Kincer. In all the time I’ve known Paulita she’s dreamed of having her very own French escape and recently, that dream came true. Here she is to tell us all about it.
Over to you, Paulita.
Our French Escape
Shivering in bed with bronchitis and a fever as the flood waters of the Charente covered nearby roads, stranding me in rural France, I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake, selling all my belongings and moving from the United States to a new country.
I fell in love with France at 22, when I travelled to Corsica, Bourges and Paris as an unpaid au pair. I took care of two American girls whose mother had to be hospitalized with her third pregnancy. We traveled with the girls’ French grandparents to their vacation homes. I lay on the beach in Corsica scribbling stories in my journal with only one eye on those little girls (but they survived anyway), I read F. Scott Fitzgerald and saw the France of the 1920s through his eyes, and I learned how to sail on the bluest Mediterranean Sea with flying fish buzzing alongside. Who wouldn’t fall in love?
I came back a dozen times, many of them with my husband who, although he might be partial to Italy, agreed that he enjoyed a French lifestyle with a focus on family, friends and food. After raising our three children – just barely since the youngest is still at university – my husband retired from his job as a journalist, and we sold our house in Columbus, Ohio. I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to get rid of all our belongings. Everything! We have about five plastic bins filled with photo albums and handmade quilts. My brother kept a few boxes of the kids’ toys that I thought my someday-grandchildren would enjoy. We packed two suitcases each, got rid of everything else, and flew to France in January.
I can’t deny that our first few days in Paris after we landed were phenomenal. I broke into spontaneous song walking along the Seine. “What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in, why it’s almost like being in love…”
But then the grey winter of the countryside set in. We were housesitting in a rural area near Poitiers with only dogs, cats, donkeys and chickens as company. Once the bronchitis arrived, nothing could cheer me, not even a luscious éclair au café with its tender pastry shell and thick icing.
Nope. This was a colossal mistake. Now I had no home to return to.
I slogged through the winter followed by slipups and weather calamities as if Mother Nature needed to reassure me at every turn that I’d messed up. A colossal flood surrounding the cottage where we housesat near Cognac. A stolen wallet in Aix en Provence. An accidental 3-hour train ride with a friend when we didn’t get off before the doors closed and the train pulled out. A 10-mile excursion around Marseille in search of the right kind of stamps for our visas. Eventually, I could laugh at every misadventure, but I kept wondering if they weren’t all signs that we should go home.
I tried to focus on the beauty along the way: the swans that landed on the flooded farm fields, their wings opening like angels’. The purple evening light on a 12th Century chapel. The taste of cognac and coffee topped with chantilly (whipped cream).
Finally, we moved into the house in Southwestern France where we planned to stay for seven months. We could unpack our suitcases and stock the kitchen, plus make friends – mostly American and British friends – but people to share meals and adventures with.
The community dinners are the best, maybe not the food, since I’m still not a fan of pork cheeks, but the camaraderie, the cheek kisses, the pop of a bottle of blanquette. And then, once the meals have been eaten and cleared away, the thump of music begins. We’ll be dancing in the streets, literally, shoulder to shoulder with people who speak different languages but we all move to the same rhythm.
My husband and I went to a movie last night, Mamma Mia. It was in French, but how hard can it be to figure out in any language, I assured him. And when we walked out still humming the songs, he mentioned that the street looked like a movie set.
Just then, we heard the strains of a faraway accordion in the square as the clock ticked past 11. We held hands and walked down the road before we reached the plaza and did an out-of-practice waltz on the cobblestones. Not caring if anyone judged our bad waltz, we wandered home, past the church tower built in 1677, past the people still eating dinner along the sidewalk, with the sounds of the accordion fading eventually.
This is our new life in France.
Paulita Kincer is the author of three novels set in France, Paris Runaway, The Summer of
I See London I See France, along with
Trail Mix which is set in the United States.
She has a master’s Degree in journalism from American University in Washington D.C. After frequent travels, she and her husband moved to France in 2018. She currently teaches college English and finds time for runs, hikes, bike rides, and copious amounts of wine in her new French life.
Her books are available on Kindle and in paperback at Amazon