So whether we like it or not (or whether we like admitting it or not), we have spent the last two weeks immersed in a sea of consumerism. Since arriving in France we’ve stayed at Chris’ parents’ place while we looked for a flat that would work for us. The right flat was really important for a couple of reasons – working from home means we spend a lot of time at home…and as a vegan in a pretty small town in France, eating out isn’t something we can do very often. So while we do try to come out of our cave at least once a day, the flat needed to be a place we could breathe.
One of the first things that occurred to us was that size really mattered…aside from the fact that we needed an office and a bedroom, we also wanted a space for friends or family to stay if they came to visit (Le Puy isn’t easily done as a day trip). So that meant finding a 3-bedroom…yikes. After visiting about thirty places – this town is pretty much all-apartments – we found it. But after years in London, where the flats we lived in were fully furnished, we were a bit under-prepared for the profound lack of anything in the flat…no furniture, OK, but no fridge, washing machine…we were lucky that this flat came with a stove (no oven) and cabinets and counter-tops, since all of the others we saw didn’t.
Our timing was pretty excellent, however, as Emmaus was having one of their twice-yearly clear-outs. Emmaus is a French charity (also in operation elsewhere) started by a Catholic priest. Their clients are formerly homeless men and women, but so are their staff. There is a powerful air of community about the entire ethos behind their work. Everyone – the staff and the clients alike – is referred to as a “companion,” and everyone is expected to contribute eventually. There are the homes – and I’m not sure exactly how those function here in France – in England they were small hostels – but there are also the shops whose profits sustain the organization. The shops are similar to Salvation Army, but there’s a big emphasis on larger furniture. We got there just a little too late for the big stuff, but we scored a couple of arm chairs and some other bits and bobs.
On our way home we spied another tiny used furniture shop on the side of the road and decided to have a look. We bought a small table there, but as there was no room left in the car, we had to come back. The owner informed us that he had a bigger shop closer to us where we could pick it up, and have a look at some other things. As it turns out, he used to be a driver of an armored vehicle – the ones that transport large amounts of cash and such – and one day it was robbed. The thieves used a small bomb, which went off while he was inside. The result was that he lost his hearing. So he has turned his attention to this shop, a massive warehouse quite hidden from the road…and there we found our dining room table and chairs.
And the following weekend was the obligatory Ikea trip, which included a few other Ikea-like shops. I had no idea how much Ikea’s model had affected the model for shops like that! All of them were laid out in exactly the same way – the labyrinthine floor plan, kitchen to bathroom to bedroom to living room, with all the needful things you saw along the way located at the end, like the credits after a movie. So bizarre. And so effective.
But the strangest thing is that we’ve gone from getting rid of almost everything over the course of the year preceding our trip to the Philippines – and it seriously took a whole year – to accumulating more stuff than we’ve ever had in our lives in the space of a couple of weeks. I would have loved to go on living lightly…it was really hard to get rid of everything, and I seriously don’t fancy doing it again any time soon. But we just couldn’t. In the end, we need to be able to keep our food cold. We need a bed to sleep on, a sofa to sit on, and a table to eat at (dangling participles all over the place). But this is also about something else.
Living nomadically is inspiring. There is an incredible sense of liberation in knowing that anywhere and nowhere is “home,” and one can opt to stay or go as one pleases. I don’t want to give that up all together. But it’s exhausting, too. And I’ve always wanted to find the place I could call “home.” For me, that place can’t be the U.S. It definitely isn’t the UK. And I’m not sure this is it, either. But I do know that every time we came to Le Puy, for Christmas or christenings, or just to see Chris’ folks, I didn’t want to leave. And I love France. I love the food and the style…the landscape that changes so drastically and so quickly…the old buildings and ancient churches…I love the colors of the countryside, and the increasing diversity of the cities.
And while I still want to spend months or even years in India, Nepal and Tibet, or Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, and I want to compare the landscape of Mauritania with that of Sudan, of Angola and Mozambique, I want to also know that there is a place to go home to when it’s all said and done. Maybe this is it. Maybe it isn’t. But for the moment, it works.
So if you find yourself in the neighborhood, pop by. We’ve even got a spare room…although we haven’t yet found a bed for it…