The good, the bad and the ugly

It’s been a bit of a week. We left the city and our beautiful bright apartment in the old centre of Montpellier, arrived in the Pyrenees ready for our rustic, rural retreat and things have not gone entirely smoothly.

We had lots of plans to farewell Montpellier. We loved it there so much. We envisioned something romantic, like champagne in the park or wandering soulfully around the Antique Quarter, or perhaps a glass of rose on the Place du Marches Aux Fleurs. We end up carousing instead, late into the night with four new French friends we met by accident after stopping for a quick one at a local bar a thirty-second walk from our flat. They were generous with their company and their wine. And they loved Jimmy Barnes so were delighted to meet Australians and bond over pub rock. We staggered home around two in the morning after doing shots and singing Working Class Man and other classic Cold Chisel hits loud enough to rattle the shutters all up the Rue L’ecole. So our last day in Montpellier was not spent wafting wistfully around favourite haunts. It was spent lying in bed, holding our heads, emerging gingerly in the late afternoon to stuff four months of accumulated belongings into two suitcases and clean.

Still, when we left we were looking ahead, not behind. We had eight weeks booked in the Pyrenees, in a rustic gite perched on the side of a mountain near Sarrance, about an hour’s drive from the Spanish border. No plans except walking, reading and watching the day go by on the terrace. After four months of work and travel, we are both happily exhausted and ready for a big shift in lifestyle. This is why we came away, it’s all been leading to this. When we left Fremantle, we were heavy with grief after the death of our beloved labrador, Huey, burnt out, and excited to travel, explore and have a proper break at the end of it. Glynn’s work has been fantastically successful, we have been to Scotland, Norway, Germany and France and had an incredible time. But now we needed to switch off, rest and let the views and the mountain air soothe our ragged souls before we leave for home and get back into the usual routines of life.

We arrived in the Pyrenees slightly bug-eyed with tension from the six-hour drive there. Glynn is yet to get completely comfortable with driving on the wrong side of the road and I am yet to get completely comfortable with watching him learn. Especially when it involves skidding precariously around vast drops on mountain passes so narrow and steep even the goats look nervous. Or squeezing through tiny roads that wouldn’t pass as laneways at home, trying to avoid cars, trucks, and the occasional tractor careening gaily around with the easy insouciance of those who grew up in these parts. All right for some. I left some of my heart in Montpellier and the rest of it was now in my throat. Full marks to the bloke for taking on the driving. If I were behind the wheel, I’d still be curled up in a ball by the side of a lonely French road in the middle of nowhere, crying for my mother.

It was still a beautiful drive, we stopped along the way to stock up on wine and cheese at the biggest supermarket I’ve ever been lost in and we were feeling pretty set to chuck our bags in a corner in our new home, crack open a red and settle in just in time for sunset over the peaks. The bloke, who has been clinging on to sanity by what’s left of his fingernails for some time now is beside himself with anticipation of a glorious and restful mountain retreat. He instructs me to video our entrance into the property so we can record this glorious moment as a highlight to look back upon fondly in our old age. To remind us of simple times, when life was easy, the days were gentle and the air was pure and fresh and as clean as only mountain air can be.

And so it was. Outside. Inside, things were a little more rustic than we planned. We opened the door and were thrown back several paces from the force of the thick cloud of dust that billowed out. We clasped our shirts to our mouths and noses in a vague effort at self-preservation, coughed and peered tentatively inside to be knocked sideways again by wave after wave of a deep and vicious must that screamed from within like a host of trapped banshees, released at last. This place had clearly been shut up since last summer, if not longer.

I opened a cupboard and was showered in a rain of mouse droppings, also alarmingly evident in the ancient toaster. No sign of anything like it in the kettle, because there was no kettle. The ancient oven was coated in thick grime. Every surface was jammed with a motley array of cheap knick-knacks, covered in thick layers of dust and the odd dead spider. We clutched each other in horror and started composing our message to the owner demanding our money back and wondering how we are going to scratch together the energy to find a hotel for the night in the middle of nowhere, let alone somewhere else to stay for two months.

We washed two glasses and dried them on our t-shirts to be safe, poured ourselves two large glasses of wine and escaped to the safety of the terrace.

And we step into the most glorious view. Breathtaking. We see snow-capped peaks crowding the skyline all around us. We are in the heart of the Pyrenees. We hear the river flowing below and the trees that line the lower reaches of the ranges are all colours; dusky purples, palest greens and soft browns. Granite rocks and the winter skeletons of the deciduous trees that line our long driveway are smothered in lichens and mosses. Bright yellow buttercups and riots of small white daisies speckle the grasses outside. Early songbirds are calling and the sound of windchimes turns out to be two belled cows that wander the pastures of the farm below us. Our tired hearts lift.

We decide to sleep on it and see how things look in the morning.

What I’m reading

I’m reading Jenny Colgan, Sunrise by the Sea. This is peak Colgan. It’s about a young woman, Marissa Rossi, who is struggling with grief that won’t heal after her grandfather dies. She moves to a remote island off the coast of Cornwall to recuperate, and meets Polly, who lives in a lighthouse, runs a bakery and has been adopted by an injured puffin called Neil. Marissa’s next-door neighbour is a piano teacher and a huge bear of a Russian who is also running from grief, in the form of a ballet dancer who rejected him in favour of someone more exciting. They bond over Italian food and music. It’s light, charming and easy. A perfect book if you’re looking for something gentle and engaging without being in any way challenging. I love you Jenny.

11 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the ugly

  1. What a wonderful piece! Just lap it up, laugh and laugh , and write down in lilting, tangled half sentences that will remind you of a time so, so special!!! And next time, come stay at our place …mouse droppings optional!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a surprise 🤮😆 Andrew’s just read. Your ability to create such an evocative piece is absolutely outstanding. Thankyou Gillo for sharing this raw experience. We’re still there on your amazing journey. You 2 enjoy 💕♥️💕

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was at the edge of my seat reading your update. Hopefully you can make it yours and disappear in that glorious view. It could be worth a day of cleaning. I hear the sounds of “The sound of music” as I picture you there.
    Can’t wait for the next instalment. Always so good to read.
    Enjoy 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank goodness for the red, red wine! Hope you also stocked up on antihistamine – helpful when the dust and must overpower the immune system.
    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So i was trying to be smart and insert a “diety of your choice”person – as opposed to a fairy godmother – in some fancy brackets, but obvs the fancy bracket thing meant that my smart-arsed comment disappeared 🤷🏼‍♀️.


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