October 1st ’18
Victorian couples dancing. A man playing some ancient instrument underneath a tree. A horse drawn carriage. These gaping shutters, which interrupt the 18th century wallpaper and give way to a bright blue sky. A crisp autumn breeze. It’s 4:57 pm on my first full day here. And it’s still very difficult to believe.
The morning bike ride into the village to fetch vegetables for lunch. The pleasant interactions with locals when I lost my way. No service. The bells that ring ever hour. There they are now. The foraging through the garden. The history of the streets. The freshness of the cuisine. The delight of tea time, with a sweet gingerbread treat. The simplicity. Sitting at this desk, watching the clouds drift, while listening to classical music. Is this a dream?
The chapel bells rang out across the fields, signaling the first glimpse of sunrise over the hills. I peeked outside, then drifted back asleep to the melody.
“oooh hooo oooo hooo” “Tyler, it’s almost ten o’clock’ Hermine called from outside my door to wake me. For the first time in 48 hours, I’d finally slept. “okay, I’ll be right down” I said. The kitchen door was open. The table set for one. A mug for coffee, a glass jar of muesli. A bowl of homemade yogurt. Apricot jam sourced from the garden. Bread.
“You’ve got time, but when you’re finished eating, you should go to the farm for the produce.” “I have to run an errand, but take a bike, and the bag when you go.” She handed me three coins to use as payment.
The rusted old barn door opened to a dark room filled with cobwebs and worn out old bike. I sorted through for fifteen minutes, before finding one that I could ride. I took a glance at the map, then set out on the country road. A field of yellow flowers on my right. Tall tan stalks of corn on my left. Above, a pale blue sky, the same color as my cranky old bike. At a cluster of houses, I rechecked the map. No cell service. I was lost.
I friendly looking man walked past picking up trash. He didn’t speak a word of English. But tried his best to help. A few blocks over, on the other edge of the village, I asked another man for help. Again, no English. He pointed in the opposite direction. “Excuse em moi monsieur” I approached a third. “I’ll be right back, let me get my glasses.” He said. Then, finally, I found the farm.
I rehearsed what to say from the translator on my phone, before ringing the buzzer. “Bonjour, I’m here to pick up the vegetables” I said. They didn’t understand. It took three tries to complete the buy.
On the ride back, the chain popped off the bike. I put it back on, then it happened again. I shed my jacket and hat as I walked on the side of the road back toward the chateau.
“Oh good, you’re back” “It’s time for lunch. Sit.” Hermine met me at the door and shuffled me to the table inside. Bread, Cheese, a cranberry ginger pear mixture, and an extra place setting. Hermine prepared the salad with the vegetables I’d just delivered. “Minha will be right down.” She said.
“I wonder what she does with all of these?” I made small talk with Minha, the new WWOOFer, as we gathered chestnuts that had fallen from the trees. “In Korea, we call these Gunban. Have you tried?” We talked about my time in Korea while completing our afternoon tasks.
We broke for tea time. In the upstairs flat, Hermine showed me to the desk. “You requested a desk right?” I was pleased. For the next hour I wrote.
The sun was beginning to sink, and the temperature dropped. Hermine gave us instructions and sent us off. Our assignment was to pick up milk from the dairy farm.
The cars buzzed past on that narrow road. Again, the chain popped off the bike. Barely five minutes in, Minha and I were left stranded in the waning light. And we were lost.
The map Hermine gave us was more of a satellite image, with nameless streets and roads. We wondered through an intersection, with a light, around the block, one of five, and then found the empty green hillside, and the barn on top.
An old pickup truck, faded sky blue, occupied the dirt drive. The place was silent. Someone shouted inside.
Behind a stack of hay, and shadows, a man appeared. Wearing a striped work shirt, and messy hair. He waved at us. I held up the empty jug. “WWOOFERs”. We said “Oui”. “Par ici” he signaled us toward a door on the side.
The heavy scent of unpasteurized dairy clogged my nostrils, as Minha and I approached. The man handed me a carton of eggs. “Vos oeufs” He said. “Le carton” He asked for the jug in my other hand.
At another door, he again signaled further.
No windows, and an elevated conveyor belt on both sides. Webs of hosing hung from the ceiling. The milk man hit a button, and the first cows stumbled in.
He took a wipe and cleaned the utter. Then attached the hose underneath. He waved at us, Minha went first. He put me to work on the other side.
The smell of mud and manure mixed with milk. From the source, he filled our jug. I handed him the coins. “Merci! Au revoir!” He said and sent us on our way. We made it back in the very last rays of light.