When we first started thinking about moving to France, we skipped right over the glittering excitement of Paris and envisioned a quintessential rural village with stone cottages, a mill by the stream, blooming flowers everywhere and the tiny lanes alive with chatter from friendly local residents. While that ideal still exists here, reality stepped in when choosing to live without a car meant that we would need to be within walking distance of all of our daily needs with easy access to public transit for longer journeys. Although we don’t live in a rural location, this past Sunday reminded us that we still found that village life we were seeking.
The main approach road that leads from the medieval Pont Vieux (the 14th century Old Bridge) up to the huge castle fortress is lined with restaurants and cafes that often spill over onto the sidewalks outside their doors. On Sunday, about half a mile (800 meters) of those areas normally covered by tables and chairs was turned into a winding flea market where professional dealers and amateurs alike emptied their showrooms and attics for this annual event. We were reminded of the sale at breakfast that morning by a tap on our kitchen window from a neighbor wanting to make sure that we were going since “everyone will be there” and he was right.
Most of the route was shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow shoppers so it didn’t take long before we were talking with the guys who live behind us, the woman from the end of our street, and a friend from just across the river. Here’s Bill with two of our other neighbors who were sharing a booth displaying all of the treasures they hoped to sell that day. As we were stepping away from their table we heard “See you tonight!”
A few hours after that cheerful comment we noticed several people gathered in the street right outside our front door. We knew that there was an apéro (cocktail party) that evening but expected it to be in someone’s house or their back garden. Instead, the street got blocked, a line of tables was set up, and soon we were enjoying a glass of bubbly and platefuls of delicious starters, salads, main courses, and desserts with our neighbors, many of whom we had seen at the flea market. In some spots along the tabletops the food dishes had to be stacked because there wasn’t enough room for everything. Part of that might have been the dozen or so bottles of wine that were sitting out.
Long after the bottles were emptied and the plates cleared away, the conversations continued and I commented that after we moved we would miss our new “village”. After all, here we have stone houses, a mill stream a block away, flower boxes overflowing with blooms, and tiny streets with friendly people who take the time to chat with us. The man next to me agreed but noted that many people at the table that night already had friends living on our new street and now they would have two more. I think that we just found our village.