Recently, my husband and I spent a month in France: a week each in Provence, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley, and Paris. We were looking forward to a true vacation, not wanting to cram our days so full of sightseeing that we needed a vacation from vacationing when we returned home. Since we planned on spending much of our time in three different regions that are known for their abundance of small towns, we anticipated the slower pace of French village life. Except for our Airbnb apartment in the main center of St. Remy de Provence, our Dordogne and Loire Valley digs were in the country where vineyards, groves of trees, forests, and rich farmland surrounded us. We had our choice of hamlets to visit, each offering its own unique character, boulangeries, and cafes.
A few days into our trip, the battery in my watch died. It seemed serendipitous for that to happen because I had left behind chronos time and entered something more liminal—not bound by the time’s inexorableness. My usual routines largely dissolved and following a to do list no longer became the main factor in what I did. We ate when we felt like it. Got into our rental Citroen when we were ready. And let the road (or the GPS) lead us to a destination. These were two-lane secondary roads for the most part (though some were single lane!), and they didn’t promote speeding. It was such a luxury to glide along at our own pace, letting drivers pass us if they were impatient with our sightseeing mode. But for the most part, others motorists seemed to share our delight in being in the moment, many of them vacationers like us or residents who had long ago inculcated this more leisurely mode.
Since returning to our Bay Area home, I’ve had the battery in my watch replaced, and I can’t avoid the usual daily routines that eat up so much of my time: watching the news (we didn’t turn on a TV in France!) for more salacious stories about Trump or scrolling the Internet for what the TV news channels leave out; responding to endless streams of emails; marketing my novels; preparing to teach a new writing workshop; planning menus and shopping for groceries; cleaning the house and working in the yard; writing for a certain period each day; and so much more. However, I’m chaffing at these duties, having trouble fitting back into the old ways, the life I left behind.
Travelling enlarges us so that the previous roles/containers feel tight, inflexible. So I’ve been trying to make room for reexamining myself in light of this splendid French vacation, trying to incorporate aspects of the culture that I find so civil and healthy, like taking time to sit down and enjoy my lunch rather than eat it on the run. Or making room in my days to just look out the window and enjoy our garden. But it’s not easy to resist jamming myself back into the old ways. Like old shoes, they’re comfortable, though they also don’t fit the way they once did.