We live in a place where the owls have conversations. At night, after the sound of children’s voices has been put to bed and the farm goes quiet, the owls are the only sound to penetrate our 600 year-old walls. It’s lovely. Their nightly chatter has finally hooked us to the Vendee.
When we first moved here, we were shocked at the placement of cannons in the farm fields. We came from a place where birds thrived all around us and we fell in love with that. HUGE birds of prey floated on the wind only to nosedive vertically down and swoop back around, prey firmly in claw.
The cannons perturbed us. Imagine hearing a bang every few minutes, penetrating your thoughts, your stories, a headful of mathematical equations. BOOM. The only conclusion we could come to was that compared to living in Normandy, we really didn’t like the Vendee. The recycling program here is also nowhere near what it should be. And people are not as nice to foreigners. These were three big enough reasons to move back to Normandy and back to the national park where we lived at first.
We tried. We almost got a rental for three years right where we wanted to be. Almost. In the end it didn’t work out, and we needed to rethink our options. It is clear that the timing to find a long-term rental is not yet right for us, and of course we need to move out of our current cottage, which we’re renting through the end of March. So perhaps we needed to find another short-term rental, this time for 12 months. The question was: where?
I sent out a bazillion emails, hitting all of the reasonably priced furnished rentals I could find with a 6 – 12 months availability. Our only restrictions in terms of location were to stay along the west side of the country, close to the ocean, and to have a decent Internet connection. In France that’s not a given, believe me! We had a few choices, including a renovated cottage only 10 kilometers from here which we found with the help of our English neighbors who heard about our predicament, that is, the predicament of being six weeks away from homelessness with 3 dogs and 2 cats, and promptly hopped on the phone to sound the alarm among a grapevine of fellow British caretakers.
We decided to take it. First, with so many castles to explore in such close proximity, we haven’t really seen all there is to see around here. Also, I haven’t made it to the archives in Nantes, which is quite nearby, to research my French ancestry. And we’d still be only an hour away from the Atlantic coast where a few little islands beg our attention.
And there’s Jay’s people! Our Irish friends!
Jay is a goofy puppy; a Burmese mountain dog that belongs to the lovely family who own and run http://labaudonniere.com/, a top-rated family friendly B&B/campground/cottage rental/RV storage place here in the Vendee. They are the first people we feel that we’ve made friends with since having arrived in France almost a year ago. We miss our friends (you know who you are!) and it feels so good to have finally made a new ones. We share their farm together with a British couple, a few French guys who work large construction around here four days a week and rent caravans, and the chickens whose awesome eggs we eat every morning.
Each family has their own space. The British people live in the wine cellar, beneath the B&B portion of the manor house. Tom, Eleanor, and their beautiful boys Thomas, Mickey and Joe live in the manor. We live in the ancient bakery-turned-cottage. And Jay… is everybody’s sentry. Sort of. His size is a little intimidating, but by nature he’s a softy. Except to the cute lop-eared bunny that lived here when we first arrived… It now lives in bunny-heaven.
Last week we had a massive storm. Imogen. For three of four days the farm, which sits atop a hill, was battered by a wind so ferocious, it rattled and shook on its ancient foundations. Jay howled in the night and we thought he was frightened. When it stopped, we figured our neighbors had let him in the house but that wasn’t the case. Mr. Jay was leashed because he’d been taking nightly excursions into the village and needs to learn to stay home. I feel a little bit responsible. When we take our dogs walking, he likes to tag along, usually trailing about 30 meters behind. He doesn’t let himself be shooed away. Instead he stops when we stop and walks when we do. Like a movie.
We love Jay and his people! We enjoy getting together for what in Irish is called a “craic” (a crack) which means having a bit of fun and entertainment. Eleanor, like me, loves the Blues so when we get together it’s with a spot of music, a bottle of white wine (or two) and the most deadly Irish coffee. Or two. And conversation. And games with the children. Tom is there too, the quiet rock, rugby fan, doting father, gently in love with his wife and family; the person who can do anything and fix anything and is always up for a chat in the sunshine.
We’ll enjoy it here another year, we are sure of it. It’s not our desire but we are grateful to have a place-a very lovely place- to live, grateful for the castles to visit, happy to have friends nearby, and for the proximity of the ocean. Behind our new house are a series of 14th century windmills atop a hill, with lots of walking paths and picnic tables; we’ll have a place for long walks with our dogs.
At night, hopefully, we’ll have the conversations of owls.