Another long overdue update; this is becoming a trend that I will try to fix… but France keeps getting in the way so I can’t make any promises.
Every morning my alarm blares in my ear at 5:45 am. And every morning I am excited to start the day. I make my coffee, black, and toast a piece of fresh baguette from the night before. I touch up on some survival French sentences, make a quick sandwich for lunch, and head for the door. Walking out of my front door in the morning might be my favorite part of the day. At six thirty the sun is just breaking the horizon and I have a half-mile walk to the garage of the vineyard where I get my assignments for the day. It’s rarely rainy here so I can always see the last traces of stars in the dusty blue sky and watch as it blends with sherbet shades of pink and orange where the sun meets the rise of vineyards. The air is cool and crisp and the dew on the grass splashes my legs as I jog lightly across the lawn to the dirt road ahead. I cross over it in favor of the grassy lanes between rows of grapes and take the back way to work, winding through vines. It’s a glorious start to the day.
Work at Chateau La Garde, located in the Pessac-Leognon region of Bordeaux, is halfway through the third week. I can now drive a tractor and mower successfully through rows of vineyard with merely inches to spare. I can hoe weeds underneath the vines until the clay and stone see the sun again. I am well on my way to speaking a full sentence in French with the other workers. And I can whip up a homemade apple pie with Roquefort cheese in my mini toaster oven in under an hour after finishing work.
I am living in a three-bedroom apartment off the southeastern end of the Chateau with a French intern. We have a small kitchen where I enjoy being creative with our minimal cooking appliances. Having a washer and dryer also makes up for learning to cook gourmet with a hot plate and a microwave. We have a living room with a television that doesn’t work, but with the huge window that opens up to a view of sunny vineyards, you don’t need the channels. Internet only works in the kitchen and because my life revolves around doing laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, it works out quite well. Currently, I am trying to make an egg and wine sauce on the hot plate and bake a duck with mushrooms in the mini toaster oven. If it works, you will be the first to know.
The chateau is located about a ten-minute walk and two-minute car ride away from the nearest town, Martillac. It’s a walk I make frequently, down the crumbling paved road that will soon be reclaimed by dirt, past vineyards, and through one last shady lane in front of an old castle before reaching the town center. Martillac is a sleepy village with about 200 inhabitants, a pizza place, a boulangerie, a post office and, of course, an old gothic church in the center. On Saturdays there is a bus to Bordeaux at 12:42 in the afternoon. It stops at the stone bench in front of the church but you have to stand up and wave if you want the bus driver to stop. The past two Saturdays, I’ve been the only person on the bus.
My weekends have also been busy with trips to Bordeaux city, visiting friends, exploring the coastline in the seaside town of Arcachon, and experiencing the summer “ferias” held in the southwestern towns like Dax. The people I keep meeting in France exceed all expectations of friendliness. They love hearing about American culture, exchanging opinions on music and politics, and arguing about the price of a decent red wine.