I love it here in the middle of nowhere. And I tell people that. But that makes for a boring story, really. Sometimes people want to hear the juicy bits, the rubbish bits, the bits that give them an opportunity to sit back and say “well, yeah, it’s alright I suppose, living in the middle of nowhere like that Alpine Mummy does, but it’s not all great – did you know [insert relevant horror story]….?”
So for those of you who think like that (don’t be shy, I love hearing about other people’s misfortunes!), here are some of the crap bits about living here. This is not a racist tirade against France, you understand (or at least it’s not intended to be…), nor should it be seen as an indication that I hate it here and I’ve made some kind of terrible mistake in moving out my entire family (I don’t and I haven’t). But maybe some of these points will be useful to throw back at me if and when I ever get a little too smug about how great it is here…
1. The fridge smells of farts
“Have you farted again?!” No, I”ve just opened the fridge.” A common refrain in this house. No, not because we’ve taken to eating poo. Quite the opposite – we have taken to eating some of the finest wares France has to offer.
I can certainly see the attraction of a nice bit of cheese. Don’t get me started on the endless debate in our Franco-Anglo household about whether we should have it before or after dessert (we avoided confusion and indeed all-out warfare at our wedding by serving platters of cheese and pudding at the same time. Cultural and marital harmony was thus achieved). Either way, you can’t beat a bit of Roblochon or Camembert or chèvre or tome or whatever takes your fancy, on a nice bit of baguette, at some point during your meal. Even I have to agree, and (hush, don’t tell the Frenchies) I’m not a great fan of cheese.
The problem is not the eating, then, it’s the storing. The older these cheeses get, the better they get, mostly anyway. Which means at any given point, our fridge will usually be harbouring about half a kilo of cheese (more if it’s market day and I’ve stocked up), of varying vintages. And yep, every time we open the fridge door, the subtle aroma of ripened cheese makes its way gently into our noses. Or rather, we all gag, scream that “the fridge stinks of farts!!!” , and quickly slam the door. We have taken to sticking our noses in our t-shirts before reaching for the milk. It certainly wakes you up in the morning when preparing your cereal…
And the chances of us simply stopping to eat cheese, or at least sticking to the less stinky ones? Nil. We have been here about two and a half months now, and have worked our way through maybe ten types of cheese. There are about 1000 types, or so I’ve heard, so we’ve got a long way to go. Good job it’s market day tomorrow…
2. Cow bells ding
I didn’t know this – they really do have cow bells in the Alps. Big (loud) ones. On every single cow it seems. And there are a lot of cows round here. All day I hear “ding, clong, ding, dong, cling, dong, dang, ding”. All day.
It was quaint at first, a beautiful and calming soundtrack to my new life. Here I was, realising the true Heidi dream in my wooden chalet in the mountains – the only sound to be heard, apart from the faraway cries of eagles (and the occasional scream about farts in the fridge), was the gentle harmonies of cow bells, proudly ringing out the same clear tones they have done for centuries.
That reverie didn’t last long.
Now I have dreams about taking out the cows, one by one, hitman style. Or sneaking into the fields in the dead of night whilst the cows are sleeping, to stuff those bloody bells with cotton wool. Ha! That’d confuse those poor cows. And it would certainly make my day a lot calmer…
3. Flies fly
This goes hand in hand with number 2 (and in fact number 1 as well). I don’t know if I mentioned it (?) but there are a lot of cows round here (hence why there are so many good smelly cheeses I guess). But where there are cows, there are flies. And they come in our house. We catch them like this:
Some days there are loads, and some days there are none. I guess it’s something to do with what the weather’s doing, and how close the cows are that day. I’m hoping they’re a summer phenomenon, and now the weather’s cooling they’ll soon all be gone. The weirdest thing, though, is that I’ve got used to them. I really never thought I’d say that.
4. Forgetfulness is not quite a thing of the past
Those who know me, and those who have read my blog posts so far will know (or will have worked out) that I’m often rather disorganised. Or forgetful. The best thing about being pregnant was being able to blame ‘pregnancy brain’ for my general dizziness. Now I have no excuse.
No excuse, and even more reason to remember stuff. There is no shop in our village (not even a boulangerie! I thought it was illegal in France to not have a bakery in the village!). The nearest shop is a 15-minute drive down a rather windy road, so it’s best not to forget anything from the supermarket (especially in winter, I imagine)…
It may be a normal thing for a lot of people reading this, I realise – not to have a shop within walking distance. But in London we’re ‘spoilt’ – a Co-Op or Tesco Express on every corner, open till at least 10.00pm, sometimes all night. If I forgot something, or realised I needed some minor ingredient to finish the masterpiece I was cooking, I just had to sling my coat over my PJs and step out to the shop.
There’s none of that now.
I am getting better at stocking up the larder one big shopping trip at a time (and getting better at cooking masterpieces with missing ingredients…), but I’m sure someone will always remind me about the day I forgot a key ingredient for the lasagne…
It was when we had some very good friends staying with us for the week, only a month after we’d got here (so my excuse is that I was still getting used to being so far from a shop!). Luckily they are very good and very nice friends – any lesser guests would have grumbled somewhat (with good reason). Christian and his family had kindly volunteered to go to the shop for me on the way back from our day trip to the lake, so I could avoid the nightmare of stopping at the supermarket, bundling two tired kids out of the car, into a trolley, round a supermarket and back into the car. We didn’t need much, just a few more things to get us through the week, including for our meal that evening. I carefully made a list and gave it to them. They asked if we needed cheese. I replied: no (did I mention we always have cheese in our fridge?).
So I headed home for a cuppa and to start dinner. Lasagne. Of which one of the key ingredients is cheese. To my dismay, as I opened the stinky fridge, I discovered that all we had was (about half a kilo of) some rather smelly soft cheeses – nothing you could put on top of a lasagne. But of course I only discovered this once everyone had come home, shopping bags in hand, hungry and ready for their cheese-topped lasagne. I sheepishly explained my predicament to them. And Christian, being the kind person that he is, went out again to get that cheese. Thank you Christian! You’ll be pleased to know I have learned my lesson!
(Kind of… We had friends staying last week who might tell you otherwise. I might have forgotten the potatoes. When we were having a raclette. A raclette is a traditional Savoie dish made from cooked meats, melted cheese and lots of, um, potatoes. Once again, one of our guests, being the kind person that he is, found himself heading down that windy road to the supermarket. Thank you Jan! You’ll be pleased to know I have learned my lesson! Kind of…)
So that’s a list of four crap things about living here – will that suffice for now?! I am sure I could come up with more, but I don’t want to turn into one of those grumbling ex-pats that I hate so much. And, at the risk of sounding smug, the list of things I love about living here is still miles, miles longer than the list above. Once that stops being the case then I guess I’ll go home. Until then, I think I can cope with a stinky fridge.