In Spite of Goodbye
Our first few weeks in Pujols I felt guilty. I had traded an environment where Covid was constantly on everybody’s mind, along with climate change, politics and the imminent possibility of massive wild fires, for a medieval village in the south of France, where for hundreds of years everything had substantially stayed the same. The stone houses and cobblestone streets had remained in place, the surrounding fertile valley was still agricultural, its patchwork of green, continues to produce crops, now of sunflowers and buckwheat.
Within the village of Pujols itself, life during Covid continued merrily on its way. While our friends were aware of the virus and took measures to protect themselves, they continued to enjoy their food and wine. The marche gourmand (glutton’s market) took place each Wednesday night, where mask-wearing denizens from near and far gathered to eat and drink from vendors who sold everything from paella and pizza to sweet potato fries and curries. And Sunday was still market day, with the village square crammed with displays of vegetables, cheeses, baked goods and condiments.
While I immersed myself in all of the festivities, I thought of my friends and family at home, still gripped by fear of the Delta Variant, bombarded by headlines about the possible overturning of Roe versus Wade, criticisms of Biden, and the disasters already wrought by climate change. How could I so easily turn my back on all that they were dealing with and embrace this new and refreshing life? It didn’t seem fair.
Gradually, though I didn’t forget about what was happening in the States and around the world, I allowed myself to sink into the life around me without regret. I went on a quest to discover the best local patisserie (bakery), the most delicious grand crème (latte), and I began studying cheeses, even though my American diet is mainly dairy free. I relished participating in typically French lengthy discussions about the correct way to cut cheese, to tie a scarf, to rip lettuce. And I began to realize how desperately I had needed this break from what I began referring to as “reality.” I wasn’t hurting anybody by enjoying myself. In fact, once I returned home, I’d be refreshed and better able to cope.
I became so absorbed in Pujolais life, that when it came time to leave, I felt heartbroken. How could I wake up each morning without the view of the valley below us? How could I leave behind all the interactions with merchants, ending in sincere mercis and bon après midis? How could I survive anywhere but in our little stone house, where I felt completely safe?
The afternoon before our departure we threw ourselves a party in Stephen’s studio, then headed down the street to our friend Christine’s for a farewell dinner. The entire evening, I felt mopey. We had spent most of the day putting everything in the house in order, emptying the refrigerator of excess food, doing last-minute laundry, which we hung up do dry in the attic. I was exhausted and spent. Then as we left the dinner to return home, everybody told us that no matter how early we took off for Bordeaux the next morning, we must stop and say goodbye—even if we woke them up.
While in the States, I might have let everybody continue to sleep, I knew that in France, people mean what they say. So as we pulled out of the village, we stopped first to say goodbye to our friends Christine and Don, then knocked on the door of Sylvaine and Olivier, just across the way. It took them a few moments to open, all tousle haired and bleary eyed. We embraced, then Stephen and I returned to the car and began driving out of the village. When I looked back, I saw Sylvaine in the street, smiling and waving us off, the cobblestone street with its stone houses trailing behind her. Not goodbye, but a bientot. And I knew immediately that that one image would sustain me, as we flew off over the Atlantic, until the next time.