Rejuvenation And Nostalgia
It’s heavy and hot this morning.
There’s an airy mist that hovers in the valley and blankets it in a dull haze, almost like a softening filter applied on a lens. The Pyrénées hover in the background like a mirage looking dry and bare, their winter coats gone, their grey-granite faces once again open to the sky. Summer has come and from now through the next several months the heat will build slowly and inevitably with only brief respites as thunderstorms pass through, or the temps dip in delightful relief. We’re not quite at the point where we need to close the shutters in the early morning, but we’re almost there. Everything outside happens in the morning now and our main walk with Polly is done by 9AM. By the afternoon all is closed up and the room AC is on. Thank the Gods for air-conditioning!
As we close up at home, France is opening up to all.
Everything is pretty much back to normal after the 3rd lockdown. Restaurants are fully open again (both inside and outdoors), gyms are open again, shops are open, even museums are opening back up. And business is thriving everywhere, even in the little village down the way.
A run-down store on the main drag was bought out by a youngish couple a few months ago, who spent the lockdown converting it into something that resembles a snazzy surf-clothing outlet. The display opened this week with two carefully positioned black plastic torso-mannequins, one with a racy bikini and the other a very hip-looking pair of surf shorts. A surprising choice considering our area is mostly an older farming community, with the nearest beach over 2 hours away, but perhaps we’ll get a fashion surge at the village lake? The shop next door was another run-down spot that was bought out during COVID too, but all signs there (and by that I mean quite literally the “poulet roti” sign that just popped up a few weeks ago) indicate it’s becoming a roast chicken store. It’s going to be to be a tight call, but I predict the latter may be a smidgen more popular with the local crowd.
Rural rejuvenation & the nostalgia of summer. Oh, and another jab for me. That’s basically this week’s roundup from the depths of SW France.
France Is Changing, And Rural Areas Are Beckoning
France is in flux, as many countries are around the world.
For years rural drain has been a huge problem as the young folk have flocked to the cities, the only place where jobs were plentiful and opportunities abundant. It was a natural progression, especially in a pre-Internet world, but it had dire consequences for the countryside. Thousands of rural villages started to die, as houses were abandoned and the population aged. Shops closed up, businesses moved and worst of all (the dying call of any French village) the local boulangerie (bakery) closed.
Seriously, if you ever buy a house in a village in France look to the local boulangeries. If they’re gone, you know that the village is essentially dead.
But recently things have started to change, not everywhere of course, but specifically in the rural areas around an hour or so (commuting distance basically) from the big cities. Over the past 5-10 years we’ve seen massive shift in our area, as houses that stood empty and in ruin for years were suddenly snapped up by younger buyers. And of course this past year of COVID accelerated everything, as tele-commuting was endorsed and everyone scrambled to get out of their city prisons. I think it’s happened everywhere, in USA and UK too.
That in turn has fueled the rejuvenation of our local villages.
We’ve literally never seen so many entrepeneurs around our area, especially in food and beverage; from brewers to wine-makers, chocolate artisans to small-production bio-vegetables, honey, dairy and grass-raised meats. Even the arts are exploding, and not just in the local village down-the-way either. In our teeny little 60-person ultra-rural community we now have a full-time artist, an established arts & culture magazine, a furniture-designer (just starting out), an interior decorator (just licensed last year), and a photographer/writer (me).
At this point the only thing preventing a full-out rural takeover is the reluctance of traditional French companies to embrace remote working.
Only around 8-17% of French workers are remote, compared to around 20% average in EU or 30-35% in the Nordic countries. During COVID lockdown things changed briefly as remote working was enforced by the government, but now that lockdown is over French companies are asking workers to turn up in person again. Unfortunately it’s just a deeply ingrained old-fashioned work culture, and for many of our younger friends who live rurally it’s a major bummer.
Still, I believe the rural rejuvenation is only just beginning. Give it 10 more years, good fiber internet and a smidgen of work-culture shift and I think rural life here will be booming.
I’ve Been Vaxxed And Digitized
The only other major news of the week is that I finally got my 2nd COVID vax jab!!!
Of course I had to make the trek back to the big vaccidrome in Toulouse, but this time it went smooth-as-butter. Two big halls are now open there and you basically whizz through with no wait at all. Of course there’s still 8 checkpoints to go through (must…have…process), but as with all things in France, once the authorities figure out how to get something into their system it runs like a well-oiled baguette-making machine.
As soon as my vax was done I went to checkpoint #7 where they checked my papers and handed me a paper certificate, complete with QR code for a digital version. The helpful lady even loaded my certificate into the TousAntiCovid App on my phone and informed me how to download another one from the French health service (through my Ameli account) should I ever need it.
I am now fully vaxxed, and with a digital certificate to prove it!! So in two weeks I will be “green” and ready to travel. Wheeeeeee!
As an added bonus my French vax should integrate seamlessly into the new EU Digital Certificate when that is released in July, which means I’ll only need my phone certificate to travel (cross borders, enter into events etc.) anywhere in Europe. And if things continue as they are, there should basically be no additional travel restrictions for me. Personally I think that’s pretty darn snazzy.
Poor Paul of course, will have to travel around with his pre-historic CDC card unless we find some way to digitize it, but for now there’s nothing new on that. At least one of us is soon-to-be-travel-free 🙂
I’m Feeling Nostalgic Tonight
Summer, more than any other season makes me nostalgic.
I guess it all goes back to childhood, where summer vacations were the highlight of the year. We would travel back to our little beach house in Denmark and my world would become long, sunny days of bathing in the ocean, playing with friends and getting lost in our local forest. We had a hammock at the entrance to our house, hung between two huge birch trees and when I close my eyes I can still feel the cool breeze and see the light sparkle as I lay in it, the sun reflected in shapes of diamonds through the ever-moving leaves. They were the happiest times of my childhood, those few months in the summer each year.
I never quite recaptured that feeling of freedom and delight, until we started RVing as adults. Suddenly summers became special again, precious months where we would sit still on the coast of Oregon & WA volunteering as lighthouse hosts. Once again I can close my eyes and taste the salt water, hear that wild ocean break on the beach, and see the lighthouse beam glide through the morning mist. I would walk in the forests with Polly during those months, getting lost amongst the trees and my own thoughts, and I would feel love…for literally everything.
I think of all these things as the heat of the day fades and I walk our garden here in SW France in the evening light. It’s peaceful and beautiful, a light breeze in the air carrying the sounds of hundreds of birds chattering their evening talk. And in this moment I can’t help but wonder if nostalgia is as real as it feels, or simply something that builds in our minds with the rose-colored glasses of hindsight. Perhaps years from now I will look back at today and feel that same heart-wrenching pull as I do about those summers past. Or perhaps by that time I will have forgotten all and simply live in the present. I like to think I’ll be able to do both, but with joy and not the sadness that so often also comes along too.
I guess only time will tell.
Nostalgia, is it something that takes you often my friends? Does it take you somewhere specific in your memories, or is it all the experiences you’ve had before? Perhaps you’re able to enjoy the present as much or more? I’d love to know. DO share your thoughts and comments below.