Life in France

Les Amis

img_0097You are NOT going to believe what we did today! Honestly, I can’t believe it happened, it’s surreal.

This morning we went up to the top of the village where we were told a group was planning to meet from the community to clean up the castle grounds and prepare it for the summer festival. We were a little nervous to put ourselves into another situation where we’d be the only ones who couldn’t speak French, but we were eager to meet more of our neighbors and excited to show our interest in the village and its history. The streets were quiet, an icy fog still clinging to the ground beneath the trees as we hiked to the top of the hill. There wasn’t a person in sight, but a few cars parked around the corner of one building gave us a clue and the sound of voices drifting from one of the doors confirmed it. Hesitant, we knocked on the door. The crowd inside turned to stare at us in surprise, all their excited conversation grinding to a hault as we shuffled awkwardly through the narrow door.

“We…uh, nous avons…uh…nous sommes les Americains…uh…”

“Americains?” a man in the center of the crowd asked.

We all nodded, and the room broke out in astonished cries and warm smiles.

“We have come to help,” my husband said, and the man jumped to his feet.

“Come! Come! Welcome!”

It turns out, instead of a crowd of our new neighbors, they were all medieval history enthusiasts from the city of Chaumont, nearly thirty minutes away. Together, they manage the castle grounds and host the festival here while also gathering several times a year to tour other castles, work in medieval festivals, and teach classes to local school children or scout troups on the rich history of our region. In short, we had found our kind of people. It was a little disappointing to learn that there were no local villagers involved in the group, but this fact made them all the more delighted to discover we intended to be a part of their work.

The man who greeted us turned out to speak a little more English than the others because his daughter had studied in America for a few years and he’d visited her there. He introduced us to the group, asked a lot of questions, then insisted we get a tour of the castle before we begin work. As we climbed up to the castle gates, he led us to the right. A map of the original castle hung on the wall illustrating what once had been a large fortress. Now, little remained of the Chateau Lafauche, but the team had spent the last thirty years painstakingly rebuilding the walls from the rubble with just a few willing hands each summer. As we climbed the steps to the first tower, I was amazed by what they had accomplished. It was obvious they’d gone to great trouble to restore the castle walls to their original position. He explained how the towers had been filled with trees that punctured holes in the walls of the tower and destroying the floors until there was little left but rubble inside the main structure. We learned how archers would have guarded the gates and a little about the history of French weapons compared to the English at the time.

Climbing up the outer slope of the castle, we took a moment to enjoy the breathtaking views of the landscape beyond our little village. It must have been a heady feeling for the original master of the castle to stand there and survey all that he owned. Here he would be lifted above all his peasants and his enemies as well, a constant reminder of authority.

We joined the rest of the crew where they were working to clear briars and tall grasses from the hillside. We weren’t really dressed for the work, some of us wearing tennis shoes instead of work boots and none of us with proper work gloves, but we took up our tools and got to work anyway. The thorns were vicious, tearing at our hands and ripping into our clothes. A fire burned on the hill below us, sending acrid smoke our direction every time the wind blew. It was hard work, but there was a beautiful sense of satisfaction in it, knowing we were not only joining in something so fabulous but representing ourselves well as both the Americans and now as local villagers.

A little after noon, we took a break and the entire group walked back down the slope to the front gates where we gathered for a photo to remember the day. Back inside the warm little room in the village, we gathered around the fire. The group offered us all some refreshment while their lunch finished cooking over the stove. An older man pulled out a bottle with a handwritten label on the front and began pouring out cups, much to the delight of his fellows. Our new friends explained that it was a medieval recipe made with wine, honey, and a blend of spices. The kids’ eyes grew wide as he offered them each a glass. They shook their heads fervently ‘no’ eliciting a few laughs, but the man only shrugged and moved on.

As we said goodbye, we felt a little sad to leave them, but they insisted we join them again and we intend to take them up on their invitation. We could certainly learn a lot from a group who’ve made it their hobby to learn the customs of the past and to preserve its treasures for the future. And who knows, maybe we can be helpful to them as well.

Walking back toward the house, my daughter smiled up at me. “Mom, that was awesome. They’re the same kind of nerds as us!”

I had to laugh, but it’s true. I’m grateful we keep finding such wonderful new friends everywhere we go. I know a lot of people were worried for us, leaving all of our friends and family behind in America. But with every twist and turn of this adventure we’ve been given new friends to join us on the journey. It reminds me of something Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…” (Mark 10:29-30)

It’s funny that when I went to look that up so that I could quote it, I couldn’t find it at first. I was sure it said whoever left home and family for God would receive double in heaven. But once again, God is so much sweeter than we expect. He not only promises 100xs the return on our investment instead of the 2xs that I was expecting, he also doesn’t make us wait. He wants to bless us here on earth just as richly as he blesses us in eternity. Isn’t that incredible? It is certainly proving to be true for us. And in the end, we aren’t really losing all that we’ve left behind. Instead, God multiplies it, surrounding us with even more love and friendship than we had when we started this journey until overflows all around us. I hope soon our village will feel it, too.

Until then, we’ll be dreaming of castles and that gorgeous view from the top of Chateau Lafauche.

 

Life in France

Introductions

14671095_1244690235582806_5371762751428877999_nDay Five: Introductions

Well, today we get to find out how quickly news travels in a small town. This morning started with an important quest: Meet the mayor of our village. This was extremely intimidating for several reasons. In a French village, the mayor has quite a lot of responsibility and can really make life for its citizens pleasant or difficult. We are told he controls building permits, makes certain that every child is enrolled in school, and is in control of the village’s water system to name a few. So, we’ve been praying about this meeting for months!

A thin veil of fog hung over the village as we ventured out this morning. We were all bundled in our warmest clothes to walk the short distance up the hill to the mayor’s office. We decided to leave the kids behind with my sister and Mandy to keeps things simple. The town is extremely quiet, so our voices seemed loud to us as we practiced our lines in French. We’d even gone so far as to write out most of what we wanted to say in case we panicked and forgot or simply couldn’t communicate. As we climbed the steps to the office, we could hear voices in the office above. My mom turned to look at me with wide-eyes and then, with a deep breath, she opened the door.

“Bonjour!” she cried, and all eyes in the room turned to look at us as we stumbled through the doorway.

I don’t know how, but we stumbled through those first awkward sentences and managed to introduce ourselves to the mayor and his small staff. He seems kind and maybe just a little younger than we are which set me at ease for some reason. Perhaps I was envisioning some grumpy old man who prefers to keep his village just the way it is ‘sans Americains’. But, he seemed like he was probably a nice guy with a few kids at home. The rest of his staff rushed over to greet us. Two women, one older with an administrative position I couldn’t quite understand, and the other my age who is the town secretary. They seemed determined to understand us and eager to be helpful. So much so, that the mayor left us in their capable hands to go run another errand. When we hit a snag with our communication, I pulled out the list of questions we had and handed it to the secretary. She was so clever! She immediately copied it on the machine and handed the list back to me. Then, she went through our list one item at a time and helped us work through all our questions and comments. We wanted to make sure they knew that we intend to be fully a part of the community as much as they will allow, buy local products and services, and participate in community events. This was apparently the best thing we could have said, because they started inviting us to events, even calling friends to let them know that the Americans would be joining the festivities. We are now committed to a big work day tomorrow where a crew of locals will work to clean up the medieval fortress for the winter and begin preparations for the summer festival. Apparently, each summer they gather in period costume and open the fortress to tourists and other visitors. They serve medieval foods and sell other related items to the tourists like a medieval fair. It’s a huge event and the whole town works together each year to make it happen.

So, tomorrow we will go and be brave, trying our best to be helpful and make new friends as we join in the work at the castle. At the very least, it will be a chance to see the castle up close. We’re equal parts excited and nervous, but determined to be brave in these situations, no matter how awkward it is to be the only person who has no idea what is going on.

By the time our meeting was finished, the two women in the mayor’s office seemed like our new best friends. The secretary has a daughter the same age as my oldest daughter and a son just a little younger than our youngest. She talked me through the options for school and promised to help us get them enrolled when we are ready. That tiny conversation took a huge load of worry off my shoulders! I was reminded once again that God is in complete control of all of this and I need to stop worrying so much. The older woman promised to help us find firewood and they even called the trash company for us to help us negotiate a bigger bin for our home than the one already issued. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to not have to handle that myself over the phone. As we said our goodbyes, they insisted we call them if we need anything else at all. Isn’t that amazing? I think I’m in love with small town France.

We went home and said our goodbyes to my parents, sister, and friend. They went off to see Paris, all of them promising to come again soon and insisting that we take some time to rest now that we are settled in. It would have been harder to let them go if I didn’t already know my parents were coming back in three weeks. I went in and set the table for lunch, heating up the leftover soups we’ve had for the last few evenings at dinner. Lunch was a great time to have a little family meeting and check in with how the kids are handling all of this. They were excited to hear there are other kids in the village and even seemed a little excited to hear about the schools they would attend in the fall. When we told them about our plan to join in the work day they were crazy excited to hear about the medieval festival and couldn’t wait for a chance to see the castle up close and personal.

Not an hour later, a truck pulled up at the front gate. It was a young man offering to bring us firewood. He said someone had called from the mayor’s office and he was happy to help us prepare for the winter. We were thrilled! I am so grateful to already have neighbors watching out for us here in our new home. We arranged everything and he’s coming back tomorrow afternoon to deliver the wood.

At this point I have to brag on my husband. He’s so crazy brave, you guys. Seriously, how many men do you know who would move to another country where they don’t speak the language and stand there talking with someone using the few words they know, sure they’re pronouncing it wrong, and not even blush when the other person corrects them. He amazes me with his courage and his determination to soldier on. I’m so grateful to be in this adventure with him by my side.

I heard the church bells ring two o’clock and wanted to cry. I had really been hoping for a nap, but now it was time for my afternoon work in the house. Graham took one look at me and smiled. “You should curl up here on the sofa in front of the fire and sleep. You’ve worked hard enough, why don’t you take the afternoon off and just rest?”

Have I mentioned I love that man?

So, that’s exactly what I did. I curled up in front of a crackling fire and slept…for two hours! It was awesome. I woke feeling like a whole new person. Then, I took the girls to the grocery store and we chose a few items for tomorrow night’s dinner. I tried to decipher the items in the baking aisle, hoping to find the ingredients to bake cookies for our neighbors, but I couldn’t find baking soda or baking powder. In the end, we gave up and decided to bake a batch of my grandmother’s yeast rolls as a gift because I could at least find the yeast. I’ll have to do some research and find out where to buy the spices and baking ingredients I can’t seem to find here.

In the end, I’m calling this day a win. Not only did our visit to the mayor’s office go a hundred times better than I imagined, but we have hope of making friends here, we have firewood on its way, I got a long nap, and the chili I made with half translated ingredients turned out almost chili-like. That’s pretty good for the end of day five of #ChateauLife.