By Lynn Strough
Welcome to another chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. This week, Lynn shows us her house-sit assignment in the South of France.
What is a day house and dog sitting in the South of France really like? I thought I’d give you an example of one of mine, as most of them over the course of three weeks were pretty much the same, all wonderful.
About 7 am, I awaken to the sound of doggie nails scratching on glass as the pups let me know it’s time to get up and take them for their walk. They sleep in their beds in the kitchen with a glass-paned door in between them and the hallway that leads to my lovely sun-filled guest bedroom. I roll out of bed, throw on some clothes, brush my teeth and splash cold water on my face to wake up. I need to put capris on rather than shorts, because as soon as they see me, they are so excited they jump up all over my legs vying for my attention. I learn the hard way that their little nails are very sharp.
After chasing them down to put them in their harnesses — pink for Poppy, Blue for Archie — and hooking them up to their ingenious y-shaped lead which keeps them from getting tangled, we head down the driveway, stopping briefly to make sure Hector is in his little wooden tortoise house in the garden, or at least somewhere nearby. He has full run of a very large garden on a steeply sloping hill, and he sometimes goes walkabout, but all I have to do to find him is to go into the garden with Poppy and tell her to “go find Hector,” which she does, with her little black nose sniffing the ground.
There are many choices for walks in and around this small village, on both paved sidewalks in the neighborhoods, as well as dirt or grass paths leading to the more rural surrounding areas. We pass the neighbor’s house with the gorgeous garden, full of a rainbow of blossoms glowing in the early morning light.
We also pass the cat lounging in her usual spot on a cement fence post out front, ignoring the attentions of the two hyper little dogs leaping up to get a sniff of her.
We hang a right onto a long, grassy path which runs next to a ravine, and the dogs are thrilled as they are allowed to be off lead here. Poppy chases her lime-green tennis ball that I throw over and over, each time deciding whether she will bring it back to me to throw again, or trot along carrying it in her mouth like a prize. Sounds of bird calls pierce the air, and the smell of grass and earth is strong.
We head down a short steep hill, through yet another grassy field, and I hook them back up before we get to the paved roads. Besides cars, I have been warned to watch out for runners, bicyclists, men and large black dogs, all triggers for Archie, a rescue dog, to jump into chase mode, and I’m not looking for trouble.
This is my favorite part — once back on a dirt road, we pass field after field of yellow-gold sunflowers, all facing in the same direction, their heads standing out like individual suns against a perfect cerulean sky. The effect is stunning, and I shoot photo after photo on my iPhone. This is when I appreciate the dogs getting me up early, as the light is what makes the scene worth saving.
The dogs are happily off lead again, sniffing at hoof prints of horses, and other things animals have left behind. We play a little more ball, I shoot a few more photos of bees busy pollinating the sunflowers, and then I hook the dogs up as I see the head of a man appear over the next rise. Everything is fine, until I see that he also has with him a big black dog, who is not on a leash. Uh oh, this doesn’t look good. Hopefully the man has control of his beast or he wouldn’t be out walking him loose.
Nope, I was wrong about that. The black monster has fixed his beady eyes on us and is creeping forward in hunting mode. I freeze, my charges on their lead at my side. I know better than to run and trigger the black beast’s chase instinct. I keep hoping the man will take charge of his dog. He does call out to the dog, who blatantly ignores him and keeps heading straight for us.
Eventually he reaches us, does a quick sniff, and goes full into attack mode, growling and snarling and snapping at our legs, which triggers Poppy and Archie to go nuts as well, but they’re tied to me by their leash. The man, still in the distance, is yelling at his dog now, in French, so I have no idea what he’s saying, but he can see the terror on my face as the dogs thrash around in a frenzy of fur and sharp white teeth at my ankles. He catches up and starts trying to grab his dog, but since the dog doesn’t even have a collar on, he has nothing to grab onto.
In what was probably a minute but felt like 10, he managed to grab the dog and hold onto him long enough for us to start to slowly walk away. I don’t know if he just stood there with the dog or dragged him away. I didn’t look back. Luckily both the dogs and I were all right, no wounds — physical ones, anyway– but Poppy’s prized ball was lost in the process, and I wasn’t about to go back looking for it.
Thankfully, events like that didn’t happen every day.
We head across a tiny bridge over a small creek, and up a steep gravel hill surrounded by woods, filled with annoying little bugs, but worth the shortcut as it’s shady and cool. Most days heat up to the 90s by 10 am. We pass the elementary school, empty now as it’s summer vacation, and pass the little butcher shop, the only store in the whole village. I don’t eat much meat, so this doesn’t do me much good, but if you get there early enough, they do sell crusty baguettes and they have a little deli case with a few things like tabouli and potato salad.
Down the grassy alleyway, we head towards home, past three super-aggressive canines who always come charging full-tilt up to their fence, barking their heads off ferociously, one with his deep growling, heaving bark sounding like a fire-breathing dragon or an angry Darth Vader. Our walks usually take about an hour, sometime a little less, sometimes a lot more, and it’s always pleasant to pass through the lovely French neighborhoods, with their white and blue shuttered houses. It’s such a sleepy village, I hardly ever see anyone, save for a few athletes and occasional dog walkers.
After feeding the dogs, and Hector the tortoise, I grab a bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt, then set to work on my laptop from about 10 am until 4 pm, with a short break for a salad for lunch.
What am I doing for so many hours without an official “job”? I’m working on blog posts to share this lovely adventure with you! And editing photos, and posting on social media, and journaling, and putting together book proposals to hopefully make some kind of living off of my creativity once again. I know I am in the right profession (even though it doesn’t yet earn an income) because it’s like all of those years when I was painting for a living, or before that, writing and illustrating children’s books, or before that, doing graphic design — time seems to disappear and six hours can seem like six minutes. I think the current buzzword for this state is “flow.”
This house offers many pleasant places to work, such as the sun porch, the bright, light-filled living room, the island in the kitchen, my bedroom or out by the pool. Sometimes it’s hard to decide where to sit.
During this time, while I work, the dogs take their naps — long ones, as it’s too hot to do much of anything else. They are allowed up on the sofa, which is covered in a blanket, so this is a favorite spot, but they also like to lie at my feet under the table while I work and sometimes pop up to say hello, or ask for a treat.
At 4:00, I head out to the pool with the pups. They don’t like swimming or the hot sun, so they hang out in the shade under the patio table, coming over to see me once in a while for a pat and a scratch. They are free to go back into the house, as the door is open, but it’s so hot here, close to 100 most days with no AC, so it’s actually cooler outside sometimes.
I alternate reading with dips in the pool for a few laps. There’s a little work involved, as I have to take the pool cover off and put it back on every time I use it, but it’s on a roller so doesn’t take long. And once a week I clean the pool, but that just involves rolling the robot out of the garage and getting him hooked up, then he actually does all of the work.
This is one of my favorite times of the day, a treat, to lounge by a beautiful turquoise pool, listen to the birds chirp, and finally enjoy some of the few books I loaded on my Kindle that I haven’t had the chance to read.
Those two hours fly by, then it’s time to go water all of the plants in the yard, which takes about half an hour. The dogs follow me around, dodging the drops from the hose, and it’s nice to see the plants staying green despite the intense summer heat.
I also hang out my laundry, which dries in a matter of minutes in the hot breeze. When you’re traveling the world with a backpack, there’s not much to wash.
By this time, Archie and Poppy are ready for dinner, and I cook my own as well. I stocked up on groceries, in fact went the whole three weeks without eating out once. Of course, that saves a lot of money, but it’s also nice to have a home to cook and eat in for a change. Plus, there aren’t any restaurants in the village and I don’t have a car. There is one pizza parlor, but I never saw anyone there, so I had my doubts as to how good it was. I cooked a lot of pasta, and ate a lot of salads, quick and easy in the heat. The fresh produce was amazing and the wine was great — at $3-5 a bottle, which would last me two or three days, a nice refreshing glass of chilled French rose or a hearty Bordeaux tasted wonderful with my dinner.
Soon the dogs let me know they were ready for another walk. We left anywhere from 7:30 pm to as late as 9 or 10, depending on when the heat let up. I figured if I’m hot, they must be super hot, with their fuzzy fur coats. We ran into very few people, it was almost like a ghost town, but when we did occasionally cross paths with someone, they always said, “Bon jour,” and I replied in kind, one of the few phrases I know in French.
Only about three times in three weeks, with two dog walks a day, did I hear the sound of parties on the other side of tall green hedges, voices chattering and laughing in French, along with the splash of swimmers in pools, the sound of music on outdoor speakers, and I smelled the smoky scent of meat on a grill. For a moment, I wished I was on the other side of that hedge joining in the fun. But overall, I did not feel lonely and thoroughly enjoyed my solitude. I have to say that three weeks with not talking to people here went by a lot faster than 10 days not talking at the meditation retreat I attended in Thailand, but that may have something to do with sleeping in a queen-sized bed in the South of France, versus on a cement bed in a small cell in the jungle. Both excellent experiences — just very, very different.
There is the question of what does one do with oneself for three weeks alone in a house in a sleepy village where you know no one, and where the few strangers you do meet don’t speak English. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time, not really alone because I had the companionship of Archie, Poppy and Hector, and I felt very productive in a way that you can’t when you’re moving around a lot.
Also, providing a useful service for people so they could go off on their holiday worry-free was a good feeling. I could easily have stayed a lot longer. Guess it’s time to look for another house sit.
About Lynn Strough
Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.
“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”
Reprinted with permission