Mr. Cheesemonger (or perhaps I will start calling him M. Cheesemonger) and I are traveling in France and England for the next month. Nearly eight years ago (how time flies!), we met in a small town in the southern part of Normandy, his hometown. I was teaching English in the local elementary schools, and his parents were teachers in the same town. I never would have imagined that I would marry someone from somewhere like this. This town that still commemorates a battle fought here by the French, Scottish, Burgundians, and English in 1424 (the English won), and preserves the remains of its 13th century moats and castles. It is surrounded by fields of wheat, peas, canola, and all manner of produce. The local foie gras producer is less than a kilometer away from the house.
This week in Normandy is jam-packed with afternoons and evenings with friends and family. Our first day here, we visited our best friends, F* and M*, who live out in a little village where the postman knows everyone by name. When we write a to them, instead of addressing the envelope with a house number and street name, we address it as the “second house on the right.” We pulled up to the rose-laden stone walls of their house, and knocked on the Dutch door.
It’s been a couple years since Mr. Cheesemonger and I have seen this particular group of friends, and so there was a lot to catch up on. We oohed and aahed over a the tractor that F* built himself. We marveled over how big the children were getting. When my jetlagged stomach started growling at an inopportune moment, M* fed me with carottes rapées, hardboiled farm eggs, and bread. “We’re French, after all. There must be bread!” A few other friends trickled in, and we learned who has bought a house (“It’s 150 years old. Just needs a little bit of work.”), who is working where, and how the tomatoes are growing (“The weather has been terrible for the past year. The tomatoes should be this tall, but they’re only this tall,” F* demonstrates with his hands.). F* recounted how recently, when renovating a house, he happened upon a dagger hidden amongst its beams. The year “1746” was engraved on the blade. Houses here tend to be a little older than the ones in the U.S., and they have many stories!
Before long, we realized four hours had passed. Time is like that here in the Normandy countryside, especially on a Sunday afternoon. When you visit with friends, you arrive, you have some tea or coffee, you chat. Before long, it’s time for an aperitif, where cured sausages, olives, ham, bread, and butter are pulled out of hiding and you have the right to a cloudy Ricard or refreshing rosé. And the chatting continues. At times, you can step outside, maybe to have a look at some plant in the garden or the new roof that protects the cut wood for the fireplace.
When it was time to go home, the sun was still out (it is summer, after all). It’s safe to say that acclimating to Normandy time didn’t take us very long.