SO here we are in southern France visiting our favourite region; Languedoc Roussillon or should I say Occitanie as they have changed it since we left; where rolling hills covered in grapevines bump against the edge of the meandering Canal du Midi, giant white billowing clouds perch on mountain tops; a brilliant contrast against the bright blue sky. Turquoise water laps the shore, white sand beaches run for miles and Platane trees arch over narrow dusty roads carving up the region like a Thanksgiving turkey. Driving along with the window open the heat hits my nose, a smell memory triggers and I start to remember our life here. We have been incredibly busy over the last two and half years to really slow down enough to reflect on the amount of changes we have undergone. Running towards success in a new country is a full marathon pace, not a stroll, however we are past due for our first real vacation, and coming back to renew our friendships seems like a natural choice. And if I am lucky, perhaps I can take the time to let myself feel what it is I am feeling about the whole endeavor.
Yes it is all very poetic. I could spend hours giving you details about the region, the fresh foods, the rich tastes, the wine… OMG the wines. But let me dig a little deeper to make sense of it all, what it takes to let change occur, because truthfully that is the part that most cannot endure. The question we get most is why would anyone give up this beautiful region in south of France for Budapest Hungary, right? Well, honestly there are loads of beautiful places in the world a person can live and work and both have an enormous amount of beauty to appreciate. The hardest parts of leaving anywhere, as it was with Canada, first and foremost are our friends. Our closest being Mal & Jeff here in Capestang who we have adopted as the children’s grandparents, I really hope they don’t mind because certainly we never did ask, we just added them to our family in 2011 and that was the beginning of many dog walks, dinners, celebrations together and loads of advice from them. I cherish them both, and it really has been too long since our last visit, nearly a thousand days in fact since we packed up house and rearranged our lives into yet another country for yet another adventure. I miss the parents of our children’s friends too; a circle so tight coming back was if no time had passed. Friendships, I mean real friendships work like that don’t they, and we have many to cherish here.
But coming back has been a fascinating experience. I did not know how I would feel. Of course when we are in Budapest the kids are busy bees; doing homework, preparing for tests, growing, learning new languages, making friends, hitting puberty (not the easiest of times)… however they have been gone from their home in Capestang long enough to have made the memories of our life here more like flawless fairytales, with shiny recollections untainted but the stress of today and the omission of the downs altogether. They are now here playing in a place where they used to have lived which means instead of studying and doing homework they are enjoying the heavy swollen fruits of French life. We have gone to the beach, horseback riding, sailing on the Med, eating out in sea food restaurants every day, visiting friends and attending parties, motorbike riding on dirty roads, shopping, walking… I think they both feel very sentimental at the moment wishing this was their playground once again. Both seem terribly sad at the thought of leaving in the morning.
While I see it like this. You know when you break up with your boyfriend and a year goes by and you bump into them at the supermarket? Well this is like that. You see them and think wow he looks great, so handsome and you say, let’s go for a coffee. Coffee leads to lunch, lunch leads to dinner and perhaps even breakfast the next morning. You are swept away by all their charms once again and you cannot remember why you ever broke-up with this amazing person in the first place. So you get back together. It all goes well. Then after a little while it hits you. Oh crap now I remember, he chews with his mouth open, goes on and on about his perfect mother’s cooking, and his breath, there are mints for that right, and sadly the flood of negative memories returns. And now, you are left to break-up with this very very nice person, to break his heart yet again!
Coming back would be like that. The summer is beautiful here, loaded with fun, festivals and activities, no stress, and no responsibilities and you forget how hard it was to make a living here, how bad your French actually is, and how integrating into a rural village is not an easy task especially as a foreigner. Yes we were happy here, yes we have made fabulous friends for life, and yes the food is absolutely amazing. It was prolific; a time to develop ourselves, push our boundaries, live our life and it was amazing. We were also very actively profiting from the year-round great weather. But I do not think you can ever actually go back. The reason? We have changed after three years away and so has Capestang.
I was walking around the village thinking I would bump into people at every turn but with 100 new houses being built in three new developments many I do not ever recognize. Brexit as well has sent people a packing, but also the village has been developing in many other ways too; the roads are spotless clean, the foliage on the sides of the roads are lush and well kept, and no dog poop. I know shocking right, three years ago you had to look down just in case. Along the canal signs are clearly marked giving tourists direction into the village markets, the roads as well with big yellow crosswalks for the safety of the children. My friend Pierre Polard, the mayor, has done a very good job of making this not only a tourist village that brings visitors back again and again to support the economy, but also a livable place where young families can flourish with amenities to serve Capestang including four doctors! I remember when they could not find a single one for the new medical center, not four years ago! It is a good balance between a traditional French village but still full of French people and not just retired Englishmen.
Much has changed with me internally as well. After three years in university, and not too many people to speak to in English, I have spent my time learning about different things and developing myself; focusing on personal growth and inward reflection. I am not as eager to please as in my younger years, and that insecurity that came from such an eclectic education (mostly street smarts and sheer determination), well that has dissipated. What I am left with is a far more confident version of myself. I am not sure if I have outgrown my village life in Capestang, but I am not willing to take a risk to find out. I will always return to my beloved French village and keep in touch with my friends and adopted family and I will let the dream of Capestang remain unchanged. In my heart, it is perfect in everyway.