Lots of forms to be completed. In French. Amazing that I had the wit to keep all the documents that are being photocopied and sent to Yannick at the Centre Nationale d'Assurance Vieillesse over there in Tours. Twenty years ago the idea that I might ever need a pension simply didn't enter my head. Growing old? Moi?
I went to France looking for a fix. I came back without one. No denouements, just a melancholy petering out. Much of the story isn't for the blog. Yet it was a rich time.
- All that travel. It came - unexpectedly - with the second job and continued into the third and final one. I wrote about one trip here.
- The piercing, damp cold. Mornings of freezing fog, the cobbles slippery and treacherous with black ice.
- Small children speaking French. Totally delightful. Normally I'm not a huge fan of small children.
- The river on hot summer nights. No wind. The lights from the Ile de la Cite and the Ile St Louis reflected, shimmering. Shouts and laughter echoing faintly across the water.
- The local boulangerie, and the seemingly ever-smiling femme du boulanger who served behind the counter.
- The question: C'est pour offrir, madame? (Is this a present?) If the answer was yes, the just-purchased flowers, or the chocolates, would be wrapped beautifully, with pride and care, the whole thing finished off with a ribbon. Part of the service.
- The sound of the dustmen in the street below c. 6am. daily. My alarm clock. Jacques Dutronc's Il est cinq heures Paris s'eveille describes these early mornings well. Good song. The lyrics are here.
- Jurgen, the Austrian painter. Big and brawny and shy, he drank like a fish and produced light-filled paintings of pale yellow and gold. For a long time I was smitten.
- Waterlilies. The vast Monet canvasses at the Musee Marmottan.
- The whole beautiful, ugly, achingly lonely, dirty, frightening, marvellous city. Home to an international ragbag of seekers, looking for something we couldn't find where we came from.
- Mme R, in her 80s, my voisine d'etage, who took both my hands in hers when I knocked on her door to say goodbye the night before my final departure. The van was loaded and we were leaving for England early the following day. We embraced and her eyes were filled with tears.
I'm just visible in the photo at the window on the second floor of the building on the right hand side of the road above the car parked on the pavement.
A part of this story fades with each day, the memories thin and friable, curling at the edges.
This morning, after rain, the scent of lavender hangs in the air. The pale orange berries of the rowan tree are wet and shiny, the leaves a burnished red-brown.
A sense of optimism. In spite of it all. Because of it all. Glad to be here.