Karen and Tom’s Excellent Adventure
Lafayette, we are here
We almost didn’t make it. Two and a half years earlier, when we were only ten days away from our scheduled visa interview at the French Consulate, we discovered Karen’s illness. Everything stopped. Karen began a series of two surgeries and recoveries, three months of chemo, and recovery, and another surgery. Now, finally, she is given the “All Clear” from all of her doctors, and they all told her, “Go to France”. And given the all clear, we picked up where we left off, applied for the Long Stay Visa, and one day shy of Karen’s birthday, arrived in France with permission to stay.
It is all so improbable. For most first-time visitors, Paris is so exciting and romantic and enthralling that most everyone thinks at least for a moment, “Wow, I could LIVE here. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in Paris?” That’s the fantasy, of course. But the reality is that Paris isn’t France, any more than Manhattan is the U.S. And you don’t really experience France until you get out of Paris. And well, that’s what we did, from our very first visit. And along the way both Karen and I entertained fantasies of living in France for longer and longer periods of time. Karen always wanted to have her own kitchen, to go to market, to shop, and to cook in France. Both of us fell in love with the country, and both of us came to understand that we are simply happier here in France.
It has been a long and unique journey from the first tentative and exciting visit to Paris and the Normandy coast in 1998, to life in an apartment in a tiny village in the Sarthe twenty years later. Neither of us could have imagined the series of circumstances that led to this moment, and the more we reflect on it, the more both of us can only shake our heads in amazement and admit that we have been incredibly blessed.
Today we are living in a very small, very French apartment in a tiny, rural village with an ancient church on the minuscule town square, built atop a roman era temple. Or so they say.
Located in the Sarthe, the village of Luche-Pringe sits on the banks of the Loir river about 8 kilometers from the large town of La Fleche, from which the French departed on their journey that led to the founding of Montreal, Canada. In many ways it is a picture postcard village, almost a caricature of The French Village; There are two small bakeries…boulangeries...side by side on the town square. Two small corner-groceries…epiceries; one café, and one small restaurant that doesn’t appear to be open with any regularity. There are two butchers, one located next door to us, where Manu and his wife give us big smiling waves whenever we walk by.
There are times when I feel like I’m living in a movie.
“Lafayette, We Are Here” was a greeting called out by an American general when US troops arrived in France in 1917, upon the American entry into WWI. The implication is one of “returning the favor” for French assistance in the American Revolution.
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Each October the Tour de France announces the planned route for next year’s race. Every several years that announcement generates particularly intense excitement among fans, and some dread among riders, when it is revealed the race will include an assault on le Mont Ventoux. Called The Giant of Province, Mont Ventoux is one of the … Continue reading Resistance
In the time since Beloved Wife and I have been an item she has been owned by six cats; each with his or her distinct personalities and quirks although, being cats, there have been more similarities among them than differences. Six cats. Thirty years. A pretty good sample size, you betcha, to get a handle … Continue reading Cat Toys
I have been to the doctor on several occasions while living here, but so far none has yet said, “Alor, Monsieur Cheche, are you aware you have a dent in your forehead?” But I’m sure it is coming, and when it does my response will be, “Of course! Its from smacking myself and saying, I … Continue reading Assimilation
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I have fallen deeply in love with this village, Luche-Pringe; with the village, with the life we have here. There is the village–streets that radiate the feel of history, that fall into silence at night as lights go out and the village is wrapped in darkness and silence of near total sensory deprivation but for … Continue reading La Joie de Vivre
The heart of the downtown business district of Luche-Pringe, in the shadow of an ancient church dating back to the time when Romans ruled here, consists of two boulangeries lying side by side, one tiny epicerie, a pharmacie, an ATM, and, inconguously, a small photography studio, l’Autour de l’Image. Like almost everything else here, it … Continue reading Sharing a Vision
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From our first arrival in the village acquaintances and friendships seemed to be extended almost effortlessly, some almost spontaneously. In moments of reflection we admit that, unbelievable as it sounds, we have acquired an ever-growing circle of friends, a circle larger and a social life infinitely more active than anything we had back in the … Continue reading Evolutions
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Beloved Wife is not a sports fan. Actually, she detests almost all sports, especially team sports. She loathes football, finds baseball inexplicably boring, basketball does not exist in her lexicon, and she claims in public to hate hockey too, but after more than two decades of living with me she has become a closet, if … Continue reading Balls
For our first road trip since quarantine restrictions began lifting here, we took a brief trip to the coast and had one of the most unique culinary experiences of our lives. We visited the just-offshore island of Noirmoutier, home of the world’s rarest, most unusual and expensive potato, the legendary Pommes de Mer. Unique in … Continue reading Quaint Traditions of France
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A neighbor down the road in the next village over, when we spent time at the cottage in the Aude, was a British expat named Mike. Once, when the subject turned to wine and he heard what we were routinely paying in the US, I thought he needed oxygen. I allowed as how we figured … Continue reading And Give My Love To Rosé
My wife is a Chef. Oh, she will demur and say something like, “I’m not a chef. I’m a good household cook,” which is like Mario Andretti saying, “Ah, I just like to drive fast.” The lady can cook. She thinks about food, reads about food, and routinely turns out restaurant quality meals here at … Continue reading The Joy of Cooking
In a few days people in Britain, America, and France, especially those in Normandy, will observe the 76th anniversary of D-Day, June 6th 1944, the Normandy Invasion. Four days later, on the 10th of June, a far more grim 76th anniversary will go unnoticed in Britain and America. In France, there will be remembrances but … Continue reading The Town of Martyrs
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Midnight in Luche Pringe is extraordinarily silent. Tuesday night at midnight Karen was asleep, and I had just slipped quietly into bed. A violent explosion shook the house and a brilliant orange flash filled the room. I bolted to the front window, opened it to look out, and there was a second boom. Outside in … Continue reading A Small Tragedy in a Tiny Village
History and travel books often make reference to European market towns. As far back as the period we call the Dark Ages and beyond, even to the time of the Romans, certain towns hosted weekly or daily markets. The arrival of farmers, artisans, and merchants of all kinds descending on these towns with their goods … Continue reading Market Day!
Walk into a café or restaurant and order a beverage…a coke or an iced tea…yeah, that’s a good one…order an iced tea. Garcon will give you a suspicious look and, sensing you are American, will ask you if you want ice with that. “Why, hell no, I don’t want ice in that,” you think. “I’d … Continue reading Ice Cubes and Trash Bags
If you’re driving around France it won’t be long before you start to see faded paintings on the walls of buildings, advertising Suze, kind of like those painted barns in the US promoting Mail Pouch Tobacco. Suze is an aperitif, sort of sweet, sort of bitter. It has been around for a long time, since … Continue reading The Drink That Nobody Drinks
Sometime around 50 BC Julius Caesar and a few thousand soldiers marched into Gaul, present-day France, and took over. The Romans stayed here for more than four centuries. They built towns and cities, arenas, temples, and plantations. Then, around 450 AD they up and left for Rome again. They packed up and left behind empty … Continue reading That Ain’t Pizza
“It’s so quiet,” we whisper to each other; whispered countless times over the years, in hundreds of towns, tiny villages and hamlets we have visited in our travels. It is nighttime in France. The French are frugal, a cultural norm, and in the evening, after business is done, stores and businesses extinguish the lights. To … Continue reading A Beautiful Silence
In the years before the miracle of the GPS, navigation on our trips to France was assigned to Karen. At first glance, that would be…well, at second and third glance too, that would appear to be as sensible as asking Superman to deliver this here package of kryptonite. Geography, you see, is not a strength; … Continue reading Travels With Karen
Shade kept us from seeing the sign. The narrow country lane, devoid of traffic, meandered through farmland of the Cotinten bathed in glorious autumn sun, highlighting roadside fields of squat, manicured apple trees but intensifying darkness in the occasional stretch through a palisade of looming shade trees. It was a rough board nailed to a … Continue reading A Bottle of Calvados
You’re tooling down the road and notice that quite often you pass parking areas, some merely roadside pull-offs, others small picnic areas complete with tables and trash receptacles. Then you begin to notice something else. Every day, around 11:30 to 11:45, cars and trucks begin to pull off in a dash to snag a space … Continue reading You can’t be hungry. Its not the right time.
Once we had our Long Stay Visas, the first item on the to-do list? Buy a car, which shouldn’t be a very big deal. We had an adequate budget and our parameters were minimal: something used but reliable; a hatchback to make it easier for shopping and hauling things around; reasonably comfortable for road trips; … Continue reading Let’s Buy a Car!
Family, for the French, is an enormously important word. It is almost sacred. There are tightly drawn lines of demarcation; one is family, or one is not, and entry into the circle of family is not casually given. Family events are wordlessly restricted to Family, and it is thus, understood by all. To be included … Continue reading Reveillon and Bad Santa
Anyone who has ever been to Paris remembers that very first day, the first moments when you realize you are indeed in Paris. In France! I know I do. We had just checked in to a hotel in the Marais, stepped in to the bathroom, and while Karen danced with delight, Happy Joy, Happy Joy, … Continue reading Cultural Stubbornness
At exactly the stroke of midnight, on the morning of December 1st, Christmas Season officially arrives in France. In every city and town, in every village and hamlet, as with one single switch, all of the Christmas lights come on. Oh, in the cities there are some of those commercial outliers who, like their counterparts … Continue reading Heaux, Heaux, Heaux!