The French Diaries: Part 3 “Happiness is better when it’s shared!”

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I stare at the little white car in front of us, filled with boxes and bags of possessions. Our possessions. After two weeks on being in Paris, we had decided.

We’re moving to the south of France.

It seems that I never do anything by half. We’re moving down to Marseille and we’re getting an apartment together.

Scary?

I don’t even know what I was feeling. But I wasn’t feeling fear. My own home was something that I had wanted for a long time. And of course I had found ‘home’ with my housemate back in England. Just like I had when I moved to Australia to be with my parents. Just like how it was when I boarded Delos.

But this was different.

This would be my home. A place that I could call mine.

I watched Edouard neatly fold his things and pack the spices that he had collected from around the world into a wooden crate. I was looking forward to seeing him cook in this new imagined kitchen of ours. I was excited for a whole new world of many firsts with him.

Every day brought something new.

I feel like I take at least five moments a day when I recognise how lucky I am on this unlikely journey of mine. Edouard’s probably going to think I’m strange quite soon if I keep on staring at him.

“Are you ok, Lizzy?” he asked me curiously.

I blinked in surprise, jolted from my thoughts. “Oh yes,” I replied. “Just daydreaming!”

I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck and looked up to the dark sky. It’s 6am and the sun still hadn’t risen yet. Edouard turned to his parents and was saying goodbye.

I can feel the same excitement running in his blood that I have in mine.

It’s a big step we’re taking. But I think by now we’ve learned that in our relationship, there’s no such things as ‘steps’. We’ve dived right in out of utter faith that it’s all going to be all right.

His mother embraced me tightly.

I wish I could speak fluent French, I wish I could tell her how much I love her son and how I will do my best to look out for him and support him. I wish I could say thankyou for everything she has done for me. Giving me a hug every morning and taking me out to the bakery to buy bread and cakes. For patting my knee one evening during a family party and saying, “It will come,” when I became overwhelmed at not being able to speak enough French to communicate with everyone. I wanted to tell her that I wanted to be a part of her family. To thank her for already making me feel a part of it.

But instead I smile and say, “Merci beaucoup! Au revoir!”

I swear that one day I will be able to speak their language fluently. It’s been difficult at times communicating with people. It’s tricky to express who you really are as a person without being able to say the quips and the jokes you would normally do with your friends.

One day, I tell myself. One day.

We get into the car, stocked up with bread, cheese and ham for breakfast later on.

Edouard looks at me with a huge grin. “You ready?”

Am I ready? Am I ready for another adventure? Am I ready to start a new life? Am I ready to take this leap of faith with someone I met on a tiny island?

I smile.

“Let’s do this.”

We wave as we slowly start to drive away and I wonder how Christine is feeling right now, waving goodbye to her son. We had a wonderful two weeks living with his parents and I feel as though she got a taste of how it would be like if he lived there all of the time.

I think of my own mother in Australia and remember her face when I waved her goodbye as I was leaving to Africa and Delos. A sensation twists in my stomach as I watch her continue to wave as we turn a corner, until there is nothing at all.

I realise then how much I miss my mother. How I wish that she wasn’t so far away in Australia.

One day, I tell myself. One day we will all be back together again in Europe.

I take in a deep breath and feel Edouard take my hand.

“Are you ok?” he asks.

“I’m awesome,” I said. “I feel amazing.”

And so it begins. We planned on driving down south to Marseille, stopping whenever we wanted to see some of this incredible country, visiting plenty of castles to placate my English love of history. We were to stop at his friend’s grandmother’s house one night, stay at his fellow sailor friend’s place (from Malin) and then we would camp for the rest.

Buildings loomed over us as we drove through the city of Paris, the palace of Versaille rising up in the distance. Home to King Louis, a man that pretty much bankrupt his country to build a brand new house for himself, it shone gold dimly beneath the weak light of the approaching dawn.

I wondered how a man could ever need so much wealth. How someone could be so short sighted to believe so much wealth was appropriate to one person.

But then again, he called himself ‘The Sun King’ for a reason.

I’m learning more and more about French History everyday. I bought a book called “1000 Years of Annoying the French”- a book by a British Historian detailing the trials and tribulations of the English and French. And why England loves annoying France so much.

It’s an interesting read, and as the two weeks had passed between Edouard and I, I realised how different our countries had brought us up.

The palace was an expensive place to get into but I stared at it longingly, wondering what it would look like inside, imagining people hundreds of years ago walking down the very street we were driving along now.

Soon we were driving before it, the huge golden gates rising high above us.

“You want to have a look?” Edouard asked.

Before I could question him, he started to drive down the pathway towards the palace, away from the carparks and parked his car before the very statue of the Sun King himself in the centre of the palace’s courtyard.

He jumped out of the car and started to roll a cigarette.

“We’ve got a while before the security guards tell us to leave,” he said, pulling his hood over his head.

I grinned, happy with his laid back attitude. It’s the small things like this that enable us to take extra pleasures. Breaking the rules, pushing the boundaries as we sat in the courtyard next to an 80’s car, waiting for the palace guards to tell us to move on.

People walked past as the sun started to rise, golds and pinks and peaches leaking into the sky like watercolours. Light peaked onto the statue of the dead king as he marched his horse towards the city, his back towards the palace he had bled his people dry for.

I sat there, in my hoody and scruffy hair and smiled. I felt like a vagabond next to Edouard, ready for anything. I had done so much, seen so much, it was now time to immerse myself in the old world of Europe and get to know the Old Kingdom a little better.

I glanced over at him as he was lost in his own thoughts.

And I realised there and then that I didn’t need much in life.

Back in England I liked to have my new dresses, good skincare, makeup, I enjoyed going out for cocktails and looking nice. They made me feel good when I felt lonely.

But here now, with no scrap of makeup, with my hair a wild mess around my face and wearing Edouard’s striped red and black trousers, I felt suddenly more free and beautiful than I had in a long time. And it wasn’t an external beauty. It was an innerness that I had finally discovered. A contentment.

Movement caught my attention and I straightened. The security guards had spotted us and were staring with their arms crossed over their chests.

“Time to go?” I asked.

Edouard laughed and nodded.

We sat happily side by side as we finally entered the countryside. Hours passed and my eyes were filled with that endless green. The road stretched out and people stared as the tiny ancient French car went past, the words, “Happiness is better when it’s shared,” scrawled on the back with blue marker.

We rolled down the windows and waved to the people we passed. They frowned at us at first and then hesitantly waved back, a smile growing on their faces.

“You see, something like that makes people’s day,” Edouard says. “That man could have been having a very bad day. But then he sees a pretty girl waving to him from an old car, and he may think- hey- maybe things aren’t so bad!”

I liked the way Edouard thought. He was always thinking about how to make things better for the people. It made me want to be a better person.

We stopped at a small town and ate our breakfast of ham, freshly made bread and cheese by the river. The sun soaked into my skin and I sighed in relief. The water trickled before us and the medieval town sat patiently at our backs, waiting for us to walk through and explore.

I thought of Delos. What would they be doing right now? Did I want to be there instead of here?

I’ve thought of this so many times. I will always carry Delos in my heart no matter what. Delos is always going to be a home to me. But right now, right here surrounded by the ancient trees and the small medieval town as I sit eating bread and cheese next to a handsome French sailor- I think this is definitely the place I should be in right now.

We spent a couple of hours exploring, stopping for a couple of hours for a glass of wine, walking around the castle, fort and church as there seemed to be hardly a soul about. Flowers grew from everywhere in neat little pots that fell in rows by the street. Bunting hung from between the buildings in a silent celebration that everyone seemed to have forgotten. I wondered what it would have been like centuries ago when there had been something to rejoice about. Would there be dancing, music and lights in the streets?

I sometimes feel like a ghost when I visit places like this. I love history so much that I can sometimes taste it when I walk through the streets. I feel like I can hear the voices and see the fires of torches. I can feel the music rolling over my skin, smell the hundred scents of the town, the food, the smoke, the dirt- and now?

It’s like everyone from that time has fallen asleep and I have been left behind, left to wander and search for their traces.

I know when I feel like this it’s time for me to write. I’ve been writing a series of books called The Contract of Maddox Black and completed editing the second one whilst on passage to Brazil back on Delos. I wanted to throw myself into editing the third book and I didn’t know what was taking me so long.

The world I had created was calling for me and I would have to answer soon.

Walking hand in hand, Edouard and I soon returned to the car, excited to be back on the road.

After a few hours of singing, going in wrong directions and eating pain au chocolates, we eventually made it to his friend’s grandmother’s house in the middle of nowhere. After not knowing anything of what she was saying, I decided that everything could be assisted with the help of wine and port.

It helped.

I think people don’t actually care too much if you can’t speak French. It’s the trying that counts. And I tried. God did I try!

And so the night went on, Edouard translated my terrible French and started to talk about leaving for the next morning.

But there was something about this lady who was everyone’s grandmother in spirit. She wanted us to stay longer. At least another day.

“She doesn’t get many visitors,” Edouard explained. “I think it would be good for her.”

I felt it within myself. I didn’t want to leave her. She had been so excited when we arrived and hugged us as if we were her own grandchildren. It made me miss my own nan. Made me wish I was a better granddaughter.

I promised myself that I would try to be.

The next morning, we enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and went out with her to pick blackberries out in the countryside.

“She will make us jam!” Edouard translated for me.

I continued to pick the blackberries alongside them both, contentedly slipping back into my memories as a child, picking the same fruit with my sister and our nan when we were children. I was brought up in a small village called Old Arley in Warwickshire and I think it’s probably one of my favourite places in the world. It was a place where I got to grow, run over fields and climb trees. It was where I created stories, fantasised and made a Wendy house with my big sister in the woods.

I was a long way from there now.

But I was happy, and there was a strange contentment knowing that my sister was not so far away. She was merely a couple of hours on a plane- nothing like the twenty four hours that it would have previously taken when I lived in Australia or, “sorry the airport is no longer in operation” at St Helena and Ascension Island.

The day passed with Edouard and I driving an hour or so out to visit a couple of castles.

“You are so English!” Edouard laughed at me as I pulled at his hand towards the huge chateau ahead.

Refusing to pay the ridiculous fee, we lay on the grass in front of the lake to gaze at the castle before us and fell into a snooze.

People passed us, friends, families and children as they chattered away in French. Occasionally I heard English accents, making me twist my head that way.

My mouth opened and closed to say hello but my voice was unable to speak for some reason.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Edouard asked, putting on his sunglasses.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I felt nervous for some reason!”

It had been a long time since I had spoken to an English person and I don’t know why it mattered. I don’t think it did. I think I was content to be lost and unseen by the people. No one knew who I was, what I was doing or where I was going.

And I kind of liked that.

Returning to Mémé’s, (French for grandmother) we ate, we drank and went to bed. She packed up a huge box of pots and pans, jam and delicious paté for our new apartment when we arrived in Marseille. We hadn’t found it yet. We were planning on staying with Edouard’s brother, Jeremy and his long term German girlfriend, Nici until we found something.

It was incredibly exciting for me. To have someone who was so unafraid to walk this path with me.

“Our story is not like everyone else’s,” Edouard said. “We’ve done everything backwards but who cares! I just know I want to be in Marseille with you.”

I walked to the car with my backpack, ready to be back on the road. We were seeing another chateau again today and I was incredibly excited. I turned back to Mémé and promised I would write to her. Already I loved the French people so much. I had never witnessed such amazing hospitality in Europe like this before.

I had been received so wonderfully by this country’s people and by Edouard’s friends and family.

Every single day seemed to bring another piece of my life together.

I could only imagine what tomorrow would be like.

 

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6 Replies to “The French Diaries: Part 3 “Happiness is better when it’s shared!””

  1. Hey Elizabeth – nice piece this time. Lot’s of colour and flavour but most importantly I felt you dropped an anchor when you mentioned your parents in Australia, your nan, your sister. We are all irrevocably linked to family and it’s important to maintain those links as best we can. The links of life … the pieces of your life, are, indeed, coming together. For now, you are lost in love, “I think I was content to be lost and unseen by the people. No one knew who I was, what I was doing or where I was going”. As time passes and your love for Edouard becomes more of an everlasting trust, it’s important that you allow yourself to continue to grow in countless ways. You are a free spirit at the moment but even spirits have to occasionally touch the ground.

    You know Elizabeth, now that I take a second read of my comment, I have no idea where I was going with that. It’s early in the morning and I am writing this before I get down to work. I enjoyed this piece of your story and your youthful happiness lightens my day.

    Take care – Jamie

  2. Hey Elizabeth,

    Now you’re writing. Much better than the last piece. I loved the references to your relationship with Edouard’s family … the closeness, the warmth. But what about your family? You have left us with a hint about your mother but there must be more.

    I can feel the excitement in your “voice”. A new apartment, new beginnings, a new relationship and, for that matter, a new country, a new language. It must be wonderful for you but at the same time you write, ” I think I was content to be lost and unseen by the people. No one knew who I was, what I was doing or where I was going”. It makes me wonder if you’re also hiding from your past. I think you have a lot to reconcile with yourself but your current state of happiness will help bring that to a resolution.

    Enough about your lovely writing. I learned last week in the last Delos video that you will be joining the crew. The time warp of YouTube videos is very strange indeed, however, it will be wonderful to finally meet you.

    Take care,

    Jamie

  3. Nice piece Elizabeth. The excitement of moving into your own place with Edouard is nicely grounded with talk of parents, grand parents and siblings. You speak so very warmly of Edouard’s mother and grandmother. Quite touching. Let’s be honest, however, this is still Elizabeth on an adventure and in a big way. You’re having such a good time but still there is something troubling under the surface. Just when everything is all roses you through this sentence in, “I think I was content to be lost and unseen by the people. No one knew who I was, what I was doing or where I was going.” There’s a lot going on here. Can’t wait for you to publish the next entry.

    Take care,

    Jamie

    1. Thanks Jamie! I think I was just trying to adjust to everything and the language barrier can sometimes be difficult. I still want to try though! I think there will be a lot of things that will crop up in future blogs as I try and unravel things in my head, but I know I’m on the right path. I’m really looking forward to bringing you the next blog in the series!

      Sending you much love!

      x

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