Arriving back is a strange feeling. I don’t mean driving on the wrong side of the road, or the fact that the sun is shining and the sky clear, which can be pretty disorienting if you’re not used to it. I guess that for all that I criticize France, it’s a kind of mini-homecoming. (It’s why we can criticize – the way we can complain about loved ones but won't allow anyone else to.)
We stop off at the supermarket to get what she who must be obeyed calls ‘a few essentials’ and stagger out with a Caterpillar D9-load of goodies that needs a fork-lift to transfer it to the car. We arrive here, unload the groceries (five trips up 28 steps, or 140 steps each), open the shutters, and there’s a cruise ship out in the bay, the still snow-capped mountains (40 miles inland) are almost touchable, and as the sun sets, a rising, nearly-full moon shines across the bay and we realise we’ve reached a different planet.
As part of the re-entry process, we try to spend a couple of days adjusting before people notice that our shutters are open. We probably know a more varied range of people here than we do in Jollie Olde - haven't got a collective noun for them yet: let's call them 'coasties'. There’s an American couple who live in what can only be called an ‘eagle’s nest’: a little house 4,000 feet up in the Southern Alps. They are surrounded by woodland and they look down on the mountain village of Eze, with the rust-coloured Esterel mountains to the right, Italy to the east, and Corsica to the south-east. Because of their altitude, and the blueness of the sky, the Mediterranean looks the colour my childhood paint-box called ‘cobalt’. Truly, the Côte d’Azur – the blue coast. When we saw them last autumn we came away entranced, but by the time we’d had a glass of something in our apartment in town we were asking each other if we envied them their eyrie. Could we live there? Answer: never! Their nearest bus stop is two miles away and it takes half an hour to get to the boulangerie for a loaf – and that’s in the car! But there’s obviously something there that we missed, because they’ve lived there for 28 years! The answer is simple: they have their work (he writes and she paints) and each other.
And that’s enough.