Life at № 42
It’s different. Very different. Sotogrande was small, but in an entirely different, urban way. Most people were originally from big cities, and so we carried with us that distance we learn to keep from each other in those places. Conversations mostly comprised of smalltalk. Your flowers look lovely, what lovely earrings, wasn’t that a lovely dinner last night. Thank you so much- that o being stretched out in what could only be called an affectation. There’s great safety in vapid politesse.
And so here I am confronting a new and very unfamiliar type of familiarity. The other day I crossed the postal worker on the street, “Did you see I left a package for you in the greenhouse.” Noticing my surprise, she explained I wasn’t home and so she came in through the garden gate. Perfectly normal, perfectly natural. (Meanwhile I was making a mental note to later google what the laws are in France regarding people just entering, rather than breaking and entering.)
People seem to learn one’s name, and expect we learn theirs just as quickly. If you ask me what my bank manager’s name was in Spain, the best I can do is say I think it started with an L. My current bank manager though, is another story. By the end of our first meeting, I knew she lived on our street. Her boyfriend was the kind man who moved his car so the removals people had more space to maneuver and bring our things into the house. She was born and raised in Mazamet and has the hearty accent to prove it- and she thinks the local food is much better than Spanish food.
Yesterday we were leaving the house when an elderly neighbour waved us down. She could see I was smoking a cigarillo and felt she had to tell me to stop. Her husband died 20 years ago of leukemia and she just knows it’s because he smoked. He passed away the year of his retirement. Terribly unfair for them both. She was forced to move from a house that had a garden she loved to a small apartment. And now she has no one to change light bulbs or fix things. Her son is an engineer, and so too busy to help, “or so he says,” she quipped.
One of the town councillors stopped by to introduce himself. A British eccentric who’s been here since the 60’s. He’s the author of Life’s not all Wine and Roses. He looks straight out of the Gloucestershire countryside. Tweed, important mustache, and the determined air of someone who just got separated from the hunt party and must get back to them immediately.
I’m finding it all amusing, even though I’m not quite sure of how to navigate in this world yet. I’m holding back as I observe and learn the dynamics. During our first month I realized my presumptions of what life is were mostly incorrect. So now I’ve stopped asking people whether they’re in one of the grand houses in town or in a chateau in the countryside. It turns out there are other options of accommodation.
The thing is in Spain people tend to only meet and socialize with people with similar backgrounds. Crossing those lines just doesn’t happen. A postal worker would never have stopped a Sotogrande resident on the street. Here it seems they take the Liberty, Equality, Fraternity very seriously.
I’m also reticent to invite people to lunch or dinner, because most seem to have strict schedules. The owners of La Villa de Mazamet serve dinner to their paying guests every evening. During the day they manage their business. I’m not sure how people work around these times. I’m not serving lunch within a window of a two hour lunch break. People wouldn’t even be able to drink properly.
I guess this means people only get to amuse themselves on weekends. That seems very limited to me. Oppressive even.
In Spain I used to only make us dinner, but I’ve taken to making lunch as well, so at least we can sit and have a glass of wine during the day sometimes- or perhaps many times (even if no one can join us because they’re working).
I also still do my private happy hour every afternoon. That’s always nice, but there’s still no music system running through the house. Oh- by the way, does anyone have the Sonos system? That’s what we’re thinking of getting. Is it easy to use?