Traveling in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is a guaranteed roller coaster of emotions – giddy excitement at all the newness and possibilities paired with nagging insecurity and alienation; the pride of someone mistaking you for a local met with sheer terror that they will try engage you in conversation; the sense of accomplishment at succeeding in otherwise mundane tasks like buying groceries; while anxiously anticipating impending new feats like navigating the gas station pump or having to mail something at the post office. (And as I write this a small, yellow unmarked van pulls up to our house, taking up the entirety of the narrow street. A man in a postal uniform knocks on our door and presents me with a package containing the fleece electric blanket I ordered off of French Amazon. We exchange pleasantries and I signed for it. Another first!)
We have made a significant mental shift when it comes to traveling. As late as May we were still outfitting and provisioning a boat to sail to Latin America and across the Pacific, focused on learning more about weather and navigation, preparing for storm scenarios, devising meal plans for long passages, deciding what kind of life raft to buy and how much tequila and sunscreen to stow. For years our life was solely focused on our 32 foot sailboat and how far we could take her.
We predicted that cruising life would abound with trimming sails, staring at maps (the blue is the land right?), swimming to shore, laying on beaches, making repairs on the boat, relaxing at anchor, taking watches during passages, cocktails with other cruisers, fishing, conserving water and energy, watching for weather windows and conversing in Spanish. Cruising can be incomparably leisurely (which is the Jimmy Buffet version), but also difficult, scary and uncomfortable. It requires a mind frame of self-sufficiency and survival, a mind frame that we had adequately prepared for. (Good friends of ours, Briana and David, who we had planned on cruising alongside, are currently in Nicaragua on their boat, Tusitala, and blogging about it here.)
By comparison, provincial life in France seems easy.
Yet due to the hasty transition from boat in San Diego to stone house in Bassac (with two temporary homes in between), we had little prior imagination for pastoral landscapes and 11th century churches.
In the sailing community, there’s a common story of an experienced male sailor who takes a reticent and terrified (but in love) wife sailing off into the horizon. She’s barely ever been on a boat or even imagined such a life and is completely unprepared for what’s in store for her – both good and bad. Adam and I always felt lucky that our experience and love of sailing was shared. Now, suddenly transplanted here in a tiny French village, it appears we’re both in the position of nervous wife, where everything is a first.
In our short time here, we’ve already started to see some parallels to that cruising life: the freedom of open roads and rolling countryside, the natural beauty of a freshly baked loaf of bread, the daring survival skills required for navigating etiquette in French shops and restaurants, the timing and precision necessary to board the right train, glasses of wine with friends of friends in Europe, the eventual repairs to the house and the (cognac induced) afternoon naps.