Dan and Judith Talk About Their Two-Year House-Swapping Experience in Provence

Judith: We missed the medical system.It’s the best in the world,with doctors who routinely make house calls,no waiting (I got an MRI appointment in two weeks,whereas in Canada I have to book it one to two years ahead),and test results explained to you on the spot,with a copy for you as well as one for your doctor.

Dan: We missed the sophistication of the technology,from the amazing sound systems at every public event and the astounding fireworks displays,even in our tiny village,to the widespread use of wireless terminals in every restaurant so they can scan your credit or debit card right at the table.At the gas pumps,you have to key in your PIN number along with swiping your credit card,so there’s much less fraud.Last year,someone used our Visa card number to charge thousands of dollars worth of gas out in B.C. That couldn’t happen in France.

Judith: But coming back to Canada wasn’t all bad.The roads here are wider and easier to drive.Gas–but not wine!–is cheaper.We were glad to be close to family and friends again.

Dan: One of the things that helped a lot during that adjustment period was being able to talk to the family and friends who had visited us there,and to share our memories and stories with them.Since they had experienced our life there,even for a brief time,they were more interested and had more sense of how deeply it had changed us and how much we missed being there.

15.You have been back a few times to Provence since your extended stay.Please tell us about these trips.What did it feel like to go back?

Judith: We went back to Le Bar-sur-Loup for two months in the winter of 1997-1998.Besides all the usual reasons– longing to be there again,escaping the Canadian winter– I wanted to see if I could do subcontract work from there.I found that the technology was no problem,and the time difference was an advantage,but the clients were still uncomfortable with distance,even if they never had face to face contact with me in Toronto.And I sensed that it would be hard to get new contracts from so far away.That trip was wonderful,though.We’d only been back in Canada for a couple of years,our
French was still pretty good,and not much had changed over there.We slipped back into our old life very easily,and enjoyed it as much as ever.So did our cats!

Dan: In September 2000,we went back for two weeks.There were changes in the village – the butcher had retired,the husband of the couple who owned the pub and restaurant had died,some shops had opened and others had closed.We had a wonderful vacation.We were busy every day,seeing our friends,revisiting favourite sites,buying presents to take back home.But for us,the magic is in living there,in watching the seasons change,in conducting our daily lives surrounded by all that history,beauty,and – most of all – by being part of our village and the larger French culture and society.

Local provençal fabrics

Judith: We just returned from another vacation in France last month (May 2005). This time, we spent a week exploring another region, Languedoc Roussillon, along the Mediterranean from the Spanish border to Montpelier. House prices are cheaper there, and, if we want to spend more time in France in future, after we retire, we thought that might be a good area to move to. We’re still not sure – it wasn’t love at first sight – and we’ll likely go back there again to see if it grows on us. We went back to our village for the second week. Again, we had a great time visiting our friends, both English and French. But the rapidly rising house prices, and the high value of the Euro, make buying there almost impossible for us, at least right now.

Dan: Le Bar-sur-Loup has changed a lot since we were there last, and the changes are hard to adjust to when they hit you all at once. The lovely old chateau is being turned into a modern hotel and restaurant. They’ve torn down the old porch, with its distinctive arches, put in modern windows, and covered it with yellow crépi (plaster). It’s quite a shock! The church is closed for major renovations until sometime in 2006. A huge extension is being built on the back of the Mairie (town hall). The village is clogged with cars; it’s almost impossible to find a parking space. Some of the shops, and one of our favourite restaurants, have closed. The tourist office no longer sells souvenirs, books or photographs, so it has lost much of its charm and appeal. And, as Judith said, the house prices are astronomical right now.

We’ve always dreamed of returning to Le Bar. We’re still attached to it in many ways, but the changes make it a little easier to contemplate other possibilities.

16. The South of France has left lasting impressions on both of you. I understand you have plans to spend more time in France in the future. Please tell us about your plans.

Dan: Before our trip in May, we were talking a lot about retiring to France in five years, and were considering the pros and cons of buying a place there in the next year or two. Our idea was to move there permanently when we retire and come back here in the summers, perhaps swapping our house and car for one in the GTA.

Now we’re thinking about renting instead of buying, especially since we learned that you can often negotiate a reasonable rent for most of the year if you’ll agree to leave during July and August, so the owners can rent the house by the week – at very high rates – during the summer. That would work for us. And, while are living there, it would be a lot easier to buy, if that’s what we eventually decide to do – and if we can afford it.

Judith: Despite the changes we see in France – graffiti everywhere, more fast food, people eating on the run, the creeping invasion of American culture, and so many foreigners (like us!) moving there – we still want to live there again in the future. Life there is a delight for the senses. It’s rich in culture, history and the customs of everyday life. For us, it’s a satisfying and balanced way of life. In France, I feel bien dans mon peau (“good in my skin”). I have a sense of general well-being and aliveness I rarely experience anywhere else. I want more of it.

Dan: Me too.

Dan and Judith, you have so eloquently evoked mental images of this little paradise in Southern France, it is making me long for visiting this scenic and fragrant stretch of countryside. Thank you for your time and for sharing your wonderful memories and insights.

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