There is a ticking clock. I followed the sound of it this morning as I tip-toed barefoot into the kitchen in a dark that was almost complete, aside from the soft, orange glow of one streetlight in the leafy square down below, filtering through the window. Tick tock. I tilted my head to listen more closely, and groped about in the dark for the object that was ticking. Held up to the faint light of the window, it revealed itself to be small, ceramic clock shaped like a teapot, and it said 5:40am. Good enough for me. I put the ticking teapot down, flipped the real kettle on, and opened the window to let the cooler air in.
With my tea made, I sat down by that window and looked out over the square: there is an old church from which last night a choir of angels filled the air with song; a half-timbered medieval house across the way; and cobblestones around the silent square which, during the daylight hours, is bustling with people drinking and dining and laughing and smoking and talking: talk, talk, talking in snatches of French that I pick up here and there as they waft up to me in my third-floor eyrie, and it feels impossible that I am actually here.
I think about this as I sip my tea. I want to take this opportunity, before the rest of the house is awake, to let the reality of this new life sink in.
We have moved to France. Not forever, but for a fair bit longer than your average holiday. It is August right now, and we won't be home until New Year. We have an apartment in a village, and our goal while we are here is to simply and whole-heartedly immerse ourselves in life. We want to explore every inch of this village, on foot. We want to practise the language. We want to make friends. We want to eat the food and we want to learn to cook the food.
Our village is pretty. Almost impossibly pretty, like a storybook. I didn't know this when I chose it: I simply googled towns of a certain size in the area we wanted to visit, and shortlisted them according to amenities like nearby hospitals and train stations (the reality of travel with kids). I can't even begin to share the knots of anxiety I had been experiencing in the lead-up to this trip (and oh! the late nights finishing my deadlines!), and the journey here took two days and was genuinely gruelling. Nobody wants to see a four-year-old with bloodshot eyes from exhaustion, and still have to tell them "Sorry, Mummy can't carry you because of the suitcases."
But yesterday as Paris gave way to fields and forests as our train sped on and on through deepening wilderness, my heart began to lift. Our stop: the end of the line. We clambered off and dragged those heavy suitcases and heavy-lidded children over the rough cobblestones, up and down laneways and in and out of crooked little streets, until suddenly we rounded a corner and an antique carousel was just beginning to turn. A hill beneath it swept down over ancient rooftops peppered with terra cotta chimneys, behind a riot of summer blooms. Pedestrians had taken over the road, the one brave car that appeared every five minutes or so being forced to inch its way tentatively through swathes of people eating ice cream.
Scout turned to me with eyes like dinner plates and said, "Our town is amazing!" and I let out a deep breath I hadn't even realised I was holding.
Our caretaker met us at the door with smiles and keys and a cornucopia of French bread, eggs, milk and fruit that I had asked her to buy for us. (Ralph bit into an apple and then it was his turn for those bloodshot eyes to turn into dinner plates: "It's a PEACH!" he announced, with the joy that can only be had by a fruit-loving boy who only two days ago was in winter, and proceeded to eat two at the same time, one in each hand).
It will take some adjusting. At the moment, we still feel like tourists. The children, with Euros from friends burning holes in their pockets, bought woven bracelets and rings and money boxes and keyrings from market vendors in the streets, and there was no way I was getting them to bed without ice cream first, and a wander through the old streets and through the castle walls.
In two weeks, though, most of the tourists will go home, and we will start to learn what life in the village is like when it is just a village.
The dawn is starting to lift now, and the first of the birds are singing. A friendly cat just launched itself onto the windowsill and frightened the living daylights out of me. When my heart palpitations subsided I said "Bonjour," and it purred a greeting, before slinking off on whatever mission it had originally had in mind.
The clock tower bell is tolling (very considerate: it didn't toll throughout the night, or maybe the bell-ringer just needed a sleep-in today). A few introductory higher notes and then a heavier, centuries old message: dong, dong, dong... seven times. And now I hear seagulls, drowning out the sound of the ticking teapot. Seven o'clock. Time to get the kids up.