18 February 2011

Stay put? Or move on?

Yesterday I read a blog that I've been keeping up with for several years. The woman who writes it and posts photos is an American who is married to a Frenchman. They met in the U.S. but soon moved to France. They're about my age — she has grandchildren.

They were living for a while in a small apartment in Paris, and spending most of their time there. They fixed the apartment up and sold it last year when they found a new, larger apartment that had just gone off the market. They moved, but not very far. They've been having some work done in the new apartment — updating a bathroom — and it has been taking a lot longer than they were led to believe the renovation project would take.

But these people also have a house in Provence. They've spent quite a bit of time down there over the past few years, and they've also had a lot of work done on the house and in the yard there. There's a pool, a pool house, a garden — everything you might dream of.

Lots of fog this morning

And then suddenly, a couple of days ago, in her Valentine's Day post, the American blog author announced that she and her husband had sold the house in Provence. She said she loved the house itself, but the yard work was a lot of trouble. Pests, including thousands of snails, became the bane of her existence as a gardener.

All this made me think about our options here. Now, I know I couldn't live in Provence. There are too many cypress trees down there, and I'm allergic to the pollen. Tests showed me that I'm also allergic to olive tree pollen. So Provence is out of the question. Besides, everything down there is pretty expensive, I think. And it kind of shuts down in the winter, when the tourists aren't there.

Actually, I wouldn't want to leave this place to move to another house out in the country. But, on some days, it feels like it would be fun to live in a city again. Or a town, at least. Tours, Blois, or Bourges, just to name the closest cities, all have their attractions. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to step out the front door and have restaurants, cafés, and shops within easy walking distance?

I don't know if I'd be able to put up with cramped quarters, city noise, and the lack of outdoor space. But over the past 40 years, I've lived in Paris (at Les Halles), Washington DC (on Capitol Hill), and San Francisco (near Japantown), quite happily. I also lived in the Paris suburbs for a while, and in the middle of the suburbia that is Silicon Valley. I didn't like those so much.

The first time I've ever in my life lived in the country has been here in Saint-Aignan. I grew up in a small town, in a neighborhood close to downtown. Now, I've lived in this house near Saint-Aignan longer than I've ever lived in any other house in my life, with the exception of the house I grew up in. But I left there 45 years ago!

When you hear about people suddenly selling their house in the country — and not just any country, but greatly romanticized Provence, with its warm (hot) weather and deep blue skies — it makes you wonder. We could put our house on the market and look for an apartment or a townhouse in a city or big town. Or in a village with shops and a market.

It's time for me to go out for the morning walk with the dog. What would walking the dog involve if we lived in a town or city? Well, yesterday, I went to Super U to get some groceries. There are several apartment complexes right next to the supermarket parking lot. I saw a man walking a little dog on a leash around the side and back of the supermarket, right next to the recycling dumpsters, and behind and around parked cars. No thanks...

Callie out in the vineyard

Spring is coming, as I keep saying, and I find myself making lists in my head of the advantages of living here in the country outside Saint-Aignan. It's nice having a big yard, with plenty of room for a vegetable garden, for example. Of course, gardening is hard work, and your success is never guaranteed. You're at the mercy of the weather, pests, and diseases.

Another advantage is the vineyard, where we can go for long walks with the dog. There's no need for a leash; there are hardly ever any cars out there, even on the tourist road. Callie stays close and isn't at all prone to disappearing. Even when she chases a deer or a hare into the woods, she comes right back. And there's almost never anybody out there except the few people who work the vines, pruning them and maintaining the posts and wires that support them. They all know us, and are friendly with us and the dog.

The route touristique through the Touraine vineyards

Okay, we have to drive to go anywhere else. And the car is now over 10 years old. But there are two large supermarkets and three smaller grocery stores within three or four miles of the house. There are also several open-air markets nearby, so there is no shortage of good, fresh, and inexpensive food. We get fresh bread delivered to our front door four days a week. We have easy access to good, inexpensive wine, straight from local growers and cooperatives. We live at the end of what is a dead-end road — at least the paved part — so there is almost no traffic or noise.

Both of us being homebodies puts us at risk of becoming hermits, however. Some might say we already have become reclusive. We kind of hole up, since we have satellite TV, computers, high-speed Internet access, a chest freezer, and a well-stocked pantry. We see our neighbors some, but not really all that often, except to wave at them once in a while when they drive by. Several of the houses around us are unoccupied for much of the year.

There's no conclusion to this post. I'm just daydreaming, letting my mind wander. Now it's time to go start making lunch.


  1. It's a question that I put to myself from time to time. I'm a city guy who grew up in the countryside with a bunch of allergies too. Luckily the only thing that seems to be affecting me here in the Gers, and that's found pretty much everywhere you have a bit of damp.

    If I were locked in here with a food supply, I could go for decades on the books, music and DVDs I have, and with the internet hermit-like isolation would be easy.

  2. We just went through this recently, with our possible move to Paris. We're still looking to move to or closer to a big city in the next year. Not sure if it will be Paris though.
    Possibly the Loire...

  3. especially since u have a dog, i think your set up there is great.....walking a larger dog in a city would be a pain & Callie is so happy to have free run of the vineyards.....when i was in paris in oct, i was thinking of the difficulties of living there for older folks....hauling groceries, sometimes having to take a lot of stairs in apt buildings or metros (i guess thats why i see older people on the bus)....so much walking (what if you had mobility issues) i wouldn't want to be in the far south of france either....too hot for me..i dont go out & about near as much as i used to....thank goodness for the internet or i'd be a true hermit

  4. As you know, we live just on the outskirts of Paris. Nogent is at the eastern extremity of the Bois de Vincennes. We live in a house, with a yard. We had four kids and our house has 6 bedrooms. It's way, way too big for us. So we go through this "should we go our should we stay?" fairly routinely. The big thing that puts us off of apartment living is the "co-propriété" ambiance. The meetings, the people who can't or won't pay for routing maintenance and investment, the people who plain just don't pay.
    We often dream about returning to Paris proper. But then agree that there's too much noise and general pollution. I don't think we'd ever move away from the Paris area. We've got our doctors; our records are at the Salpétrière, one of the best hospitals in France. I've met people who have had to come from hours and hours away for their appointments and it only takes me about 30 minutes to get there on public transport.
    And we've got our friends and neighbors.
    One thing we won't have forever is our cat. He's going on 18 and we are not going to take another when he dies.

    PS: Some old Pierwige friends of Paul's, from '68, have been in touch. We'll be seeing them in the fall.

  5. An interesting question that's been on our minds for a while. In your case, Callie may be the major deciding factor. By breed, she's not a city dog, not even a leash dog at this point.

    You can try out town living in several places without selling your current home. Gites de France now has 208 "City Breaks." (If I wait long enough, the French language will morph into English and I won't have to learn all that tricky gender or tense stuff.)

  6. It's useful to take stock and try to look at things objectively every so often.
    It doesn't matter what other people think - who cares if you become a recluse so long as you are a happy recluse?

    I find it useful to write a list with good points in one column and bad points in the other when I'm thinking of changing anything radically. Then I sometimes remember a really good reason for changing or not changing that I might have overlooked.

    I think the idea of hiring a house somewhere is a good one - to give you a taste of what it really might be like.

  7. Before my in-laws moved to Hawaii for good, they rented a house for 1year to see how they would like it. They loved it; they bought a lot and built their dream home.
    I think that is what I will do before I make my move to either France or another city in the States. (I have been reading the same blog about the move from Provence to Paris).

  8. I haven't met the lady in the post , but we have been following each other for a long time .. Yes I was surprised when I read that they had sold the house in Provence ... maybe they will get a house in another area of France .

  9. Ken, until I looked as I drove [carefully] from GP to Perrusson today, I hadn't realised just how many Cypress [mainly Leylandii] there are around here on the 'flatlands'... people seem to use them as the standard windbreak. You have my sympathy! Does a non-drowsy anti-histamine work for you?

  10. I meant to add:
    Or would the flowering period be a good time to take a holiday... in Paris, Geneva, York, Edinburgh, or think about the weather forecast I've just heard.... somewhere warmer [but Cypress pollen free!]

  11. I definitely prefer the city life.

  12. Sounds like a combination of the winter blahs and a seven year itch.

    Still, I think it's healthy that you're asking yourself the question.

    Unlike you, I tend to get stuck in my rut and don't willingly displace unless forced. We've been in this house since 1987 and I tell myself I have no intention of moving.

    Every once in a while, however, it's nice to think about what might be...

  13. Ken, you have outdone yourself with the pix today. no matter where you roam or where you home.... your life will be full of beautiful things. i'm sending you my warmest wishes! ps i'm not moving back to civilization anytime soon...and at this point, they probably wouldnt have me.

  14. I think about "downsizing"and moving, but I live in Australia and I have a lot of space and like it...however my sojourns in Europe each year, and your wonderful post, and beautiful photos, remind me that having space gives us choices...and how lucky we are for that!

  15. If I looked at my move from the POV of my dog it's a mixed blessing. Here in rural France, he has lots of area to roam, but no doggie-playmates and constant threat of tick fever and snake-bite.

    In Sydney he had lots of doggie playmates at the local park, but it was very hard to take him places because Australia is so anti dogs in public places or on public transport.

  16. I don't think I could live in a town again, not even a small one. We have fairly close neighbors, but we leave each other alone. The closest grocery store is 6 miles, the closest good store is 14.
    If I didn't have specific things to do in town, I could happily stay home for weeks. Let's face it, at our age, 62, most of us have interacted with other humans enough already to last us the rest of our lives!

  17. I stop by and enjoy your excellent writing and beautiful photographs from time to time, but I don't think I've ever commented. Thank you for all you do to inspire those of us who live in a city (in my case, Dallas), and yearn to spend more time in France.

    I envy your life, but must be content with mine for now! I get to Paris once a year or so, and love it. I think I'd miss the U.S. too much to live there, and I know I couldn't afford it, but I wish I could explore France more often.

    Your life sounds so wonderful, and it's great that you have options to consider. Lucky guy!

  18. Thanks for the comments, everybody.

    Mike, we certainly know what you mean about France being more dog-friendly than other countries. Still, traveling to a city with Callie is not that easy.

    Tim, I've tried many many antihistamines and decongestants over the past 20 years. Most have proved to be ineffective, and the ones that are effective have undesirable side effects — severe drowsiness or high blood pressure.

    Harriett, hi, oui, I hear you!

    And OFG, I hear you too. I've become a real bumpkin, when I think about it. Or maybe I've just become a grumpy old man.

    It's pouring rain this morning. I still say, this is springtime weather, not winter weather. And I'm glad of that. In the U.S. NE, would be called "the mud season" I think.


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