I’m Watching You

I think I’m adjusting to village life. We’ve been told that there are about 15 people who live here year round; now 17, I guess. There are more houses than that, but the rest are vacation rentals, or gîtes as they’re called in French. Those who live here year round are hard-core locals, apparently most of whom were born here, with an average age of about 75. We were excited to meet one other English-speaking couple (Robert and Lucy) — he is British and she is Chinese. They seem to not know many of the neighbors very well because they don’t speak much French. They both work internet jobs; he says they “work in China.” As Marie-Doucy says, we are truly an international village now, with the addition of the American and the German.

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One thing you notice about our village right away is that there’s not much going on. It is the off season, so it’s pretty empty except for us locals. I say “us locals” legitimately, because we are in the process of buying this house. We have a teeny-tiny local bar a couple of houses over (with one table and two chairs and two bar stools) where we went for dinner the other night. She did feed us after a lengthy negotiation over what she could cook without having to prep potatoes (we ended up with a salad and two galettes), and as we were leaving, Dominik said to one of the men permanently ensconced at the table, “A la prochaine!” which is “see you next time” in French. Apparently the guy assumed we were tourists and thought that was pretty uppity, and replied with, “I’m a local! I live here!” Which was a bit of a non sequitor. Dominik said, “Oh really? Which house do you live in?” He answered with evident pride that he lives down in Planay, at the bottom of the gorge (so he’s kind of a local but not really — he has to get in his car and drive up here instead of walking behind the chapel and then taking a right at Lucy’s chicken coop like we do). Before it could deteriorate further, the bar owner said flatly, “They bought Serge’s house.” That seemed to put an end to the pissing contest.

We don’t have internet, tv, cable, or any other form of electronic entertainment at this point, so in idle moments, we hang out at the window or the balcony and just kind of watch. Not looking at or for anything in particular, just literally hanging out. A consequence of this is that we see everything that happens in the village within a certain visual range. Whatever our neighbors do, we see it.

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Main Street, as seen from our living room window.

Our living room window overlooks the only street in the village, so we see almost everyone come and go. I was working in the kitchen a couple of days ago and Dominik came in from gardening. He said, “Four things happened. Lucy fed the chickens, Marie-Doucy went to the neighbors’ house and came back with a pot, the same neighbor pulled up his car, loaded something and then left [we now know he’s tending his garden plot on the other side of the village], and two teenage girls walked through the village and then came back the same way with a boy [weekend visitors].” This is village life.

You can also see how since it’s such close living, if two people didn’t get along, it would be pretty catastrophic. Such is the case with the couple that shares our house (which is essentially a large duplex) and our former owner’s parents. They apparently had a running feud of more than 50 years. Our neighbors have a right of way under the front edge of our half of the house to get to their half of the house, and long ago the neighbor, Louis, built a door with a lock to protect it. There’s even an ugly red slash of spray paint on the side of our house that is his interpretation of the line of demarcation between our properties.

So bitter was their mutual grudge that when we asked the realtors about the odd yellow, opaque windows lining one wall of our living room (where there would be a magnificent view up the valley), we were told at first that it was a resolution to a legal problem. This obviously concerned me, so we asked further and were told that Louis had accused Serge’s mother (Serge is over 70 by the way, to give you an idea of the geologic scale of this feud) of watching him come and go. I thought this sounded bizarre, but we were assured that even though the yellow windows were installed to address this complaint, there had never been actual litigation or any kind of court order. The first thing we’re going to do after closing is put the original windows back in, which are still in the shed behind the house. Now I understand why Louis thought he was being watched; he probably was.

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The awful yellow windows.

The night we were moving in, I was up at the house while Dominik was unloading the van below. Looking out my kitchen window, I could see Lucy (whom I hadn’t met yet) hanging around the edge of the chicken coop watching him intently. She made a move to walk down the hill towards him, but he left the van to come up with another load just then, so she turned around and went back. When he got up to the house, I told him that he needed to go introduce himself to those neighbors because they were watching him. And that in a nutshell is our new hobby — watching the neighbors watching us.

 

Copyright 2018, Rachel Howard

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