Independence Day: A French Invention

It’s our fifth day in the Alps, and we’ve have begun to settle into a routine. Not to say that our experiences are routine. There’s nothing dull about staying in a 300 year old Maison in the Alps, surrounded by French people who speak hardly any English. Our days aren’t exactly action packed, we’ve been taking it slow, not stretching the limits of our jet-lag. But I’m kept entertained with hundreds of tiny discoveries a day. Here are a few:

  1. The goat next door has one specific chicken that is always standing underneath him. I don’t know why. It’s not to stay cool, since the chicken is there even when the goat stands in the shade. 
  2. The valley we are in has 3 notable rock formations: The Mummy, The Giant’s Butt and Mount Needle. The Mummy is a miles-long ridgeline that has the profile of a sarcophagus. You can see The Mummy from our bedroom window, where it looms over a goat with chicken standing under it. The Giant’s Butt is a large escarpment where it looks like giant sat on the mountainside. And Mont Aguille, or Mount Needle, is kinda pointy.
  3. The family keeps 3 lady chickens, Reglise, Coucou and another whose name I forget, but she keeps to the coup all day. The rumor is that she is depressed because she wants to have chicks. 
  4. The region is called Les Araignees. Meaning “The Spiders.” There are spiders here. It’s gross. There was big one in our bedroom while Thalia and her brother Dylan and I played a video game. I killed the spider with a record I found on one of the many bookshelves here.
  5. Oh! This place has a ton of books. Most importantly, there’s a bunch of Bandes-Designee, which are the large format French comic books I’m fascinated by. This house has seen a number of Thalia’s aunts and uncles through childhood to adolescence, so a quick search of a bookshelf usually reveals a few comic books. Mostly, Asterix et Obelix, a celebrated comic about a tiny viking with a Napoleon complex, but there’s also a few grungy noir comics with a bunch of titties in them, and even some copies of the Moebius Western comic Blueberry. The real winner is Saison Des Amours, which is just a picture book filled with drawings of animals doing it. 
  6. The next door neighbor Phillipe keeps a chicken farm. Those birds are huuuuuge and next week Ima buy one and serve it to the family Lawry’s style. My first introduction to Phillipe was during our evening walk. We passed a man reclining on his back porch with his feet on a table, drinking a Corona Extra, while reading a book and COVERED with KITTENS. I have told everyone he is my new favorite person. This is the new high water mark for life in the Alps.

The house itself is awesome. Large and square with small, neat rooms and narrow,well-decorated, maze-like hallways. We’re staying on the second floor which has its own door accessible via an earthen ramp once used to move hay in to the loft. The second floor has its own kitchen and a dining room/living room serving as a painting space for Thalia’s grandmother Monique. I’ve been given free range of the area and art materials after a touching tour in broken English. The main table is now where I do my drawing and where Thalia sits with me and writes in the afternoon.

Down a flight of VERY narrow spiral stairs is the main floor, with a kitchen and bathroom that are long tube rooms with shelves carved in to the walls. The living room has a huge hearth, low wood-vaulted ceilings, Oriental rugs and plastered walls. There’s a tiled, raised island that splits the room with a few lamps and a number of Thalia’s grandfather’s sculptures. This is also where Shalimar hangs out. Shalimar is a very old, very sweet, one-eyed Persian cat. She purrs easily and sits unmoving among the sculptures all day long.

There’s a pool. It’s surrounded by rotten wood planks but it’s always the perfect temperature. There’s a small creek that feeds a pond full of lily pads and a few dozen Koi in it. There’s a terrace overlooking a beautiful garden with a couple of plants in it that are supposedly pretty poisonous. I don’t know which they are yet.

There’s also a dog, Phillipe, pronounced Flip. A long, black and white four-year-old shepherd, he is a sweety and spends a lot of time chasing chickens.

It’s great here.

We wake up, usually after breakfast, and go down to eat leftover bread (homemade) with nutella and jams (homemade). Since we get up late we’ve usually got an hour till lunch which is the big meal here. Lots of wine from the cellar, good meat, good cheese, good salad. The family chats like crazy and I make fewer and fewer attempts to keep up as my French is even worse than expected. Mostly I just say how much I like the food and keep it to that. It’s working so far.

In the afternoon we go upstairs to read/draw/do French lessons/nap. Then it's back to the pool and then it's tea time on the terrace and then it’s dinnertime. Holy shit, life is good. Retirees know how to party. In the evening we watch movies with Thalia’s brother, crowding around a tiny laptop screen and chatting during buffer times. The internet here is shit.

I think that covers it. Mostly, I’m just enjoying myself. Feeling lucky to be here, and enjoying the break from work. Doing just enough writing and drawing to feel productive (some of it’s quite good!) and then spending the rest of my time trying to relax enough to do justice to the phrase summering in the Alps.

More later, but for the next month if you’re wondering what Thalia and I are up to at any given moment, you can picture us doing any of the things I’ve mentioned and you’re probably not far off.

Au revoir, dudes.