Coming up on four years of living in Europe. It's been lifestyle- and life-changing.
What I like most is the unhurried attitude, the antithesis of the frantic rush of the corporate bubble and consumerist coercion. We are fortunate that we do not have to leap out of bed in the morning and merge into the maddening traffic bound for overpriced coffee driveups and high-rise cubicle farms. Permit me to gloat that, most days, we lounge in bed, reading, until we get hungry for a light breakfast.
When we do finally get dressed, some mornings the biggest challenge is walking about 100 paces down a slight hill to our cheery, samba-dancing green grocer to pick out fresh veggies for lunch, then a few more paces to one of five butchers for the freshest of meat, then a couple of steps to one of four boulangeries for aromatic just-baked bread.
We might stop on the way home at one of three sidewalk cafes, where we're likely to bump into a succession of friends doing the same. It's not uncommon to go out for a "quick" errand and not get back for three hours. The conversations cover everything, and the viewpoints range from radical to reactionary.
Yes, we both work, but mostly on our own schedule. That's a perk of freelance and semi-retirement. Sometimes I'll write deep into the night; that's when I seem to focus best ... the terror of a deadline certainly helps. D-L is more productive in the daylight.
We don't get to the beach nearly often enough. I know; you feel so sorry for us. We actually like it best in the winter when it's fairly deserted except for a dog walker or three. Occasionally early in the morning to watch the sun rise. In the other direction, the Pyrenees rise up to protect our plain, none more majestic than Canigou. Two abandoned watchtowers on the peaks reassure that the Franconistas won't be invading over the border any day soon.
As much as we like the stone buildings that go back a thousand years, the narrow meandering streets, the church bells sounding call to worship, weddings and funerals, the marche vendors hawking produce, sausages and cheap clothes, the summer dances, the non-commercial carnavales, the 25-euro doctor visits, the 5:25 am trash truck beep-beep-beep, and dodging dog doo, what truly makes village life wonderful is the variety of people -- French, of course, British, Irish, Dane, Swede, Moroccan, Spanish, and local Catalan; mostly authentic, non-pretentious, not worried whether their purse is this year's name-brand brag bag, content with a wardrobe that's more functional than fashion.
I don't think I could live in a large city like New York or London or even Paris. Maybe on the fringes ... in a village more like ours. The access to great museums and events might be nice. But I suspect the pace of life even there would lean to hurried and harried.
I doubt I could live in the States again, assuming I could even afford to on Social Security (if it's still there) and a bit of writing revenue. I've gotten used to the shops being closed from Noon to 3:30 or 4:00 and all day Sunday (except for the chain grocery, which is open in the morning). I like that we don't need a car to get to most anyplace we want.
In a way, the village is akin to the place where I grew up. We knew the neighbors. My grandfather had a grocery store down the street. The gathering place for the men and boys was a guy's basement barber shop. We walked to school - elementary, junior high, and high school. We rode our bikes to baseball practice. Anyplace beyond the river was mostly a mystery. That place isn't the same anymore.
Was moving to Europe a coming home for me? Was it a step back in time, both figuratively and literally? Don't know; doesn't much matter.
I'm here to be with the person I love. She's here because she loves this place. It didn't take me long to fall in love with it too. (Just stepping off the train was enough.) And every day we find we love it in new ways.