“We’re Going Where With Whom?” – On Holiday in France 2008 – part 1

I must admit, I was a bit worried when my wife came to me a few months back and mentioned that a couple of friends that we don’t see very often had invited us to accompany them on holiday this summer. My first thought was, “Why us? I guess no one else must want to go.” I was then told that it would not only be this couple and their two children, but that the same couple and their child that we had gone on holiday with the previous year in Tuscany would be joining us as well. A second thought quickly entered my head: “Including ours, that would be four screaming kids … do I really want to torture myself this way?” I was told that a place had already been reserved, and we would all be going to stay in an old winery turned guest house in the south of France near Carcassonne. This did have its appeal. I had only been to Paris on two separate occasions, and the desire to see more of the land of wine and cheese was always on my agenda, but to do this with two other families that we were barely in touch with and all our kids stuffed into the same building left a taste in my mouth akin to cold, mushy Brussels sprouts left in a pot of stagnate water on the stove for three days. It is not that I dislike any of the people we would be together with, it is just that we did not really meet much with either of the couples any more, so I could not see why we were invited to join in their summer holidays. My wife tried to tell me that it would be a good opportunity to re-connect as we had recently moved out of Kraków, where the others continue to reside. When I still had that sceptical look upon my brow, she just started repeating in a hypnotic voice “the south of France … wine … cheese … the south of France … wine … cheese”. It didn’t take too long before I was drooling and saying “OK, let’s do it!” As you can tell, my wife knows that I am easily persuaded when the right combination of words are used.

When the time came for us to depart fair Bochnia and set forth upon our lengthy four-day drive (we had decided that we were going to take it easy this time round instead of trying to squeeze 20 hours worth of road in one go as we had done the year before), the memories of our previous holiday to Tuscany came flooding back. I would not say that we had not taken into account our child’s aversion to sitting in a car for any extended period of time, I think we just hoped a year of growth might have made a difference. By and large the year had made a difference, and our child was relatively manageable for at least seven or eight hours of sitting in one place, with the occasional break here and there for food, petrol and toilet stops. The problems came when we stopped for the night. Imagine, if you will, being worn out and with a sore back from driving all day. The first things my thoughts went to were food, nice beer (we stayed in Czech, a beer lover’s paradise, the first night and Germany – need I say more – the second night) or some wine (the outskirts of Lyon on the third night) and then maybe an evening stroll around whatever town we managed to pull into that day before settling in bed for some well-needed rest. Unfortunately, my daughter had different plans. As soon as the door to the car let in that first breath of non-air-conditioned air, she would break free of the car seat that had so cruelly imprisoned her and take off running like a greyhound at the track that had just ingested a 20 kilo bag of cocaine and washed it down with four litres of espresso. If there were a way to harness the energy released by that little girl during these moments, I have no doubt you could power the whole of North America for a century (and the way us Americans waste electricity, that’s quite a feat)! This, of course, made a relaxing meal impossible. The embarrassment felt at a restaurant as your kid is flopping on the seats or floor like a fish out of water or is trying to set some new record of the most forks on tables other than your own licked within ten minutes is an embarrassment only parents can know. This release of youthful tension would last for at least three hours, so when she finally passed out for the night, my wife and I would immediately sacrifice a goat to the gods of sleep in appreciation (we brought along our own livestock just for the occasion) and then commence pouring booze down the back of our throats. Don’t think of us as alcoholics, though, as we did not necessarily drink to relieve stress or calm down; we drank to dull our threshold of pain, because during the night, our kid still seemed to expel impromptu spurts of energy, which would manifest itself into an elbow smacking me in the ribs, a foot wedged into my wife’s armpits or a diaper-cad bum smothering your face as the three of us had to share the same bed. A bottle of red wine at least dulled the abuse inflicted upon us to a bearable level.

After three bruise-filled nights of sleepless hell and four days of road weariness, we finally traversed the winding stretch of road that led to our destination, a guest house going by the name of Domaine de la Fraissinède, which is about 2 kilometres away from the village of Montlaur. Even before pulling into the gravel parking area that was to provide sanctuary for our trusty auto (borrowed from my wife’s father, as I haven’t completely broken myself free from driving cars that have their own strong sense of personality – i.e. they may fall to pieces at any moment or explode in a fiery blaze), I knew that we had reached a form of paradise on Earth. The rocky hillside, the craggy gullies and gorges, the vineyards, the beautiful weather, the vineyards, the quaint villages, castles and châteaux, the vineyards … I liked what I saw … immensely! Maybe this was going to be a good idea after all!

As it turned out, we were the first of our group to arrive, and whilst my wife and I were attempting to stretching our legs, backs, necks and arms after the cramped conditions of the car, which probably made us appear like rejects from a leper colony, our daughter managed to chew through her car-seat restraints and run headlong and screaming into the knees of our hosts, who had come to greet us (or kick us off their property if we did turn out to be lepers). After discovering that our flesh and extremities were in no immediate danger of falling off and that the aforementioned greyhound on speed was in fact our child, Laurence and Alain introduced themselves as the proprietors of our home for the week.