The seed was planted with an idea I had way back in my senior year of high school. I wanted to live in Germany for a year. It didn’t seem possible at the time, primarily for financial reasons. Even though the seed didn’t germinate for many years it still remained a firmly planted desire in my mind.
Life happened; I married, had a child, divorced, and built a career. When my daughter turned 13 she and I took our first trip to Europe. I spent several weeks researching and planning the trip. When Mary saw the list of things to do that I had generated she asked “When are we going to sleep?” To which I replied “Vacations are not for sleeping.” It was a whirlwind trip: England, Scotland, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and The Netherlands in two and a half weeks. That summer the seed got a thorough watering.
We returned to Europe when Mary graduated high school then again a couple of years later when I took a leave of absence from work and we (my daughter, grandson, my dog and I) traveled around France and Germany for nearly three months. During that leave I looked into possible job opportunities. One looked promising but I learned that my father was going in for surgery so I returned to the states.
Another couple of years went by; Mary was going away to university so I decided it was time to make my move. I had no idea what lay ahead but my attitude was that it would be a bigger failure not to try than to try and fail. So I quit my job of 16 years, posted my resume at the annual conference, and boarded a plane to Frankfurt. The hotel I booked in Frankfurt wasn’t in the best area so I decided to move on to Paris. When I called Mary to tell her where I was she announced that my resume resulted in a potential job offer from a Belgian company and I should contact them immediately. I did and a meeting was arranged in Antwerp for the following week.
After a very intense interview they hired me as a consultant. I had to return to the U.S. to get a work visa which the company arranged. I thoroughly enjoyed working in Belgium. Initially I stayed at the home of a coworker and his family and he later found an apartment for me. I lived and worked in Geel, a small town in the Flanders (Flemish speaking) region of Belgium. The people of Belgium are delightful and I made some wonderful friends during my two years there. Although I didn’t live in Germany I was able to live next door in Belgium for a couple of years.
Mary had majored in French at university and was graduating just before I left my job in Belgium. I suggested that she come over and put her language skills to practical use before starting a job which would probably offer only one week vacation for the first year or so. Ever my daughter, she didn’t have to give it a second thought. So she and my grandson, Derek, joined my dog and me in Belgium for the move to France.
A Belgian co-worker had a friend who owned a condo in the south of France. (After this Southern California girl spent a couple of real winters in Belgium I was anxious to move to a warmer latitude.) He made the introductions and I signed a rental agreement for the apartment. It was a small studio with a hid-a-bed couch, sleeping alcove with bunk-beds, kitchenette, and petite patio overlooking the Mediterranean port of Antibes. The owner generally rented the condo during the summer; she was glad to have someone stay in the off season and we got a great deal. We were able to spend a few months there.
Although we experienced occasional tense moments sharing such a small space none of us would trade the experience. We visited some nearby towns, shopped the weekly markets, frequented the Boulangeries, and eagerly absorbed the local culture. Mary and I both joined an art group called Antiboulenc. It’s a group of artists, from novice to professional, who gather to work on individual projects and share ideas. The professional or experienced artists would offer advice to less experienced members and dabblers like me. Mary and I alternated days to give us each some space and to have someone on hand to look after Derek.
On most sunny days we would walk down to “the cove” a sheltered area that was populated more by locals than tourists, at least in the off season. Heading the opposite direction along the coast was Fort-Carré. When it got very windy we would walk the queues or just stay in and enjoy the sound of the boat rigging clanging against the masts in the port. (I still sometimes long for that sound.) Across the peninsula is Juan-les-Pins where Mary attended some lectures in French and they often had Jazz events.
It was an enchanted time.
While walking around town in Antibes we would frequently pass ads in windows of immobiliers, real-estate offices. Thus a new dream was grafted into the one that had sprung from that original seed. When I returned to the states (and got internet access) that phase of the dream became an obsession. I wanted to buy a house in France!