I have not been overly inspired to write. Maybe I just ran out of things to say after three years in the region. France is becoming as normal to live in as BC was to me growing up in. I am used to the endless pastel colours, the rolling vine covered hills, and the slow flow of the Canal du Midi. Stereotypes are long gone and I accept my adopted country, a community that is deeply a part of who I have become. It is where I move, where I love and where I grow into the person I am supposed to be.
But an update is in order… and long overdue once again.
Summer time. The vines are in full bloom, the bees are buzzing around the colourful flowers and the water is splashing out of our pool. The cicadas are chirping their eery sounds day and night a background rhythm to our long hot summer days. At dusk the 40 tiny black bats pop out of the neighbour’s attic, swooping down to eat the mosquitoes along the fenceline. The warm winds from Africa cross the sea and reach my nose as I sit under my olive tree as I write. We had a high of 37 degrees today in the shade, and as the sun descends over the horizon I am sweltering in the heat even after a dip in the pool.
Hiccup! As far as hiccups go, we had a few this year so far. First we had the car fiasco, and a nearly 5000€ added expense between the unpleasant man that sold us his broken car, its repair and the eventually purchase of our reliable VW 7 passenger Touran. I have nicknamed my new reliable Sylvie because she is a light silver colour and after such a long time coming, I am happy to finally have a good car. By giving her a name I feel we are friends and she will not let me down. There’s some positive affirmations for you.
It was hard to go through the process of being ripped off in France, but unfortunately it happens too often and we are not being targeted for being foreigners as I had once thought. As it happens, everyone we know at some point in their lives have gone through the same scam. It is common practice to try to get ahead in this fashion in this region, if and where you can. Yes it is a harsh realization but in all honesty, this is a socialist society after all, where everyone is about equal. When you don’t have much to begin with, I conclude that people feel desperate and pass along their own misfortune. A sad part of living here and something that is hard to swallow. My only analysis is that desperate people do in fact do desperate things. It is the same all over the world.
Then the tires on the Mercedes van needed changing. Alfonz was being a good sport and tried to save a few bucks, and ordered and bought a no-name brand online. They arrived and our mechanic neighbour installed them at a discount. We were pleased until Alfonz noticed they had a defect and as he drove the feeling was off and he knew they were dangerous. He had to buy another set of tires directly from Germany (higher quality this round), replace them and send the first ones back for a refund. Ding and double ding. Now we wait for the original refund.
If that was all, I could have handled it because shit happens and we are normally prepared for issues. But then one of our guests (I don’t know who it was for sure, all though I suspect a cycling couple through the region from New Zealand, they seem feisty enough to shower together or perhaps one of the bigger boys that stayed over the break) broke the rain forest showerhead in our beautiful on-suite bathroom in the apartment/chambre d’hote! They didn’t tell us, instead jimmied it in and went on their merry way. Yes thanks for your 60€! When Alfonz finally noticed the damage, he thought to silicone it in place and call it a day. What we didn’t know, is that it is the main water supply connected to the wall, and it slowly leaked from spring break until the week before summer holidays behind the shower until the damage was disastrous and a entire renovation was in store. I noticed the tiles under foot lifting up and they moved when you walked on them. Even the toilet was swaying, and the entire floor was damp. Alfonz had to take everything out, and dry it out with a large borrowed fan, from Steve the reno man. Then, when taking out the shower itself, the way it is designed is that it doesn’t go back together. Cheap Chinese plastic crap!! Yes by this point I was fed up and angry. We had to purchase a new shower. Total bill 400€. But we take things like this in stride, hoping that all will in fact work out in the end. Just get through it, and don’t forget to breath. After all, look around at where you live… yeah that didn’t help. Just keep swimming…
Then our boss asked us to give voluntary deposits for dispersed payments in case we have an unhappy student. I was at my breaking point and wondered for a moment what type of lesson was the universe trying to teach me? Hmm. Patience, nope long gone. Understanding and sympathy for the others involved also impossible after so many little hits. Now, just show me the money universe! I put in the time, I paved the path and I put in the energy to succeed. It is now your turn to bring me the cash… ca-ching.
Then we realized our summer bookings were down, over 25% down. Last minute cancellations, bookings that never paid, and a few random spam, the new computer program had a few major glitched from our hosting company. Needless to say still a huge disappointment for our summer business. Now we wait and pray for a miracle, that an onslaught of students decide book with us last minute. I opened up the availability on our apartment for weeks with students only in the house. I have no choice. At the end of the day we need money to survive not just happiness, not just inspiration and not just the fruffy love I dish out on a daily basic. Eventually I realize that an income is a necessity.
Then our LIDL, our cheap but always fresh German food store has closed down for six weeks for renovations. Dagger in my heart! Now I am forced to pay double for my food at Intermarche during the time our students are here. I miss going into the little Lidl store, loading up our buggy and it costing 50€. We hit Auchan in Beziers last week thinking we were being so smart but our bill was 100€ for the week. Please give me the strength to go on.
The BBQ, the air conditioner, the shutters are all on their last leg. The upstairs windows need to be changes to double pain. The front door, the garage door… the list goes on and on when you own your own house. We counted on a loan that never went through. We counted on the fact that the bank after 3 years would in fact lend us some money. They say September is the magical month that all the banking gods and moon align to give us our piddly little loan.
Even our Hungarian apartment had repairs; a new bathroom, new paint… 2015 so far was about repairs.
I still have my travel writing article coming out this month, so that will pay some bills when it comes to fruition. Again, show me the money honey. They contacted me today, so I know they haven’t forgotten about me.
So what do you do when times get tough? You take charge of our own destiny, Alfonz’s wine tour company is really taking off. He finished his WSET with flying colours and the bookings are coming in slow but steady. The feedback has been amazing. He is charming, informative and honestly meant to be in this business. He has found his way with Wendy from Vin en Vacance, and he is being mentored by the best in the business. He will continue his studies in the fall, after the season ends and into the winter. I foresee an amazing year 2016 with all the contacts in place this year, then next year things will go smooth.
I hope to find more work as a writer in the winter months as well. I am in the exact right spot to travel and write about it with so many cultures and traditions at my door step. I will find an avenue to market myself and then I don’t have to rely on our booking agency to fill our student spots.
Alfonz and I have been entrepreneurs for a very long time, so having to go back to depend on someone for our income and our financial fate is difficult. I am enjoying my work with my students and this year out of 30 kids over the summer, 14 are returning from the previous vacation breaks. This makes us think we are doing something right. This thought has got me through the difficult moments, the little obstacles on the road to success, just knowing that we are in fact making a difference in these kid’s lives. They make me very proud.
My latest obsession is the rubik’s cube. I haven’t had the time to finish it since I was a kid. I spent about an hour on it yesterday and an hour today. It is in fact completed! Now, I am determined to do it quickly, so one day I can show off at parties like a freak.
We also had my step-sister Nicole visit from Scotland a few weeks ago for a week with her son Nathan, and this past week Pamela, Arpi (mom’s cousin) and their grandson Conner visited from America. They live between their home near Lake Balaton in Hungary and their apartment in Florida. We had a very busy and fun week with them and Daniel and Conner were inseparable. Part of moving to a new country and starting a new life is that people do come to visit. In between the busy work and life we entertain, and I love sharing our region with friends and family. It always recharges my battery.
Today we completed our first week with 4 students, and I enjoyed 6 kids with me at all times. We visited the beach, the river, the shopping centre to go bowling and look around at the SOLDE sales. They have spent a large amount of time in our pool as it was a very hot week. We ate three watermelons, drank 6 litres of iced tea, 4 litres of apple juice and endless containers of water with lemons. They went cycling this morning with Alfonz along the Voie Verte greenway trail along the old train tracks. It was an easy week with bright students and I hope they all come back one day. Makes my job easy when we have willing students, who are here to learn and not just work on their tans.
This coming week we have a Canadian family staying in our village for two weeks to experience French village life. Their son and Daniel have been a part of the same baby group since they were born. I have no students this coming week, so we plan to explore the region together and have a nice week of vacation. Angelina is going on a trip to the Pyrenees with her buddies Garance and Pierrick from class. She is the only one this year heading away from the family for a break over the summer. Daniel will probably not go to visit our family in Hungary this year, instead my cousins will visit us in September. I am looking forward to it, as the rest of the summer will be non-stop with six kids under foot until September 1st when mine go back to school.
Angelina got mostly As on her report card and Daniel got 16.5/20 average. Both passed their tests with flying colours and are above average in every subject. Makes me proud.
I can only wish Alfonz and I are learning French this fast. We are improving, but slowly, ever so slowly.
The Hamori family is still pursuing happiness in southern France.