We live on rue Doumet, or rue Paul Doumet as the street sign says, almost half way up the hill in the old part of La Garde. On the French geographic organizational chart, La Garde is in the Department of Var, which sits in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
The street further up the hill is rue Horloge, where the bell tower is. The bell tower does not sound between midnight and six in the morning. When it does sound, it rings each hour twice: for example, if it’s four in the afternoon, you’ll hear four gongs, a pause of about thirty seconds, then another four gongs. The reasoning behind the two sounds of each hour is that peasants working in the fields would hear the first set of gongs, but might not be paying attention and miss counting the hours. Therefore, the hour would sound a second time, and the now alert peasants could count the hours and know the time.
We live in a maison de ville, a town house. We have no front or back yard. Our front door opens on to rue Doumet, and there is no exit out the back, although there is a courtyard there, but that belongs to the next door neighbor. We have four bedrooms and two bathrooms spread across three floors, plus an attic. I work in the attic, sharing space with our stored luggage and drying laundry.
Our neighbor to the right, who owns the backyard courtyard, is a divorced music teacher at the nearby middle school. He has two sons, and has been helpful with finding piano teachers and sheet music stores. The neighbors to the left are polite, but keep to themselves. Across the street from us the townhome is divided into apartments for students, who are pretty well behaved.
On the roche, or rock, where we live are several fountains that we can hear when we leave the windows open, which it’s now warm enough to. There are also small green water pumps, if you’ve been to Paris or Nice you’ve seen these, that after a few strokes bring up cold water to put your head under or fill up a watering can.
Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday is market day in the Place de la Republic, about a forty five second walk. Vendors vary by season but there’s always fruits and vegetables stands, several butchers, a fish monger, a flower vendor, and a cheese vendor. On busier days there might be several of each of these, plus the guy in the van who makes keys, a sewing machine vendor, some furniture salesmen, an arts and crafts truck selling sewing supplies, a baker, and number low end clothing vendors selling most everything.
This is as good as shopping gets. When I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license, one of my chores was to do the family food shopping at the commissary at Cameron Station in northern Virginia. Back in those days, along with the food list, I took my mother’s military id card and a blank check to pay for everything; the only thing that made it tolerable was me getting drive somewhere, which every sixteen year old wants.
But the magic wore off, and many years on, after trips to A&P, IGA, P&C, Alpha Beta, Safeway, Costco, Lunardis, Cosentinos, Andronicos, and Whole Foods, it’s all a wad of fluorescent light and colored boxes and rewards cards.
At the market the tempo is humane and the atmosphere social. The vendors talk to you and aren’t in a hurry, you see neighbors and talk with them. The guy selling all the exotic nuts, beans, and fruits, including cranberries from Canada, gives you samples to eat; the tapanade guy throws in an extra 100g of the tomatine.
If I’m in a hurry and Annie is not with me, I go to one of the produce stands for onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes, and maybe some rutabegas or turnips. I’ll get some bananas from Africa along with apples and pears, and maybe some clementines from Corsica. I’ll get one section sobrassad forte, a cousin to linguicia or chorizo – it goes great in a hash with eggs and potatos. I’ll get a rotisserie rosemary chicken for lunch, and on the way home I get two baguettes. If I’ not talked to anyone, I’m done in fifteen minutes. In other lifetimes I’m still in the parking lot looking for a place to park, if I’ve even arrrived.
Nearby is Intermarche, similar to Safeway. We get a lot of stuff there: its convenient and the prices are good and they have the processed stuff that we need but can’t get at the market. It’s a five minute walk down the hill, or a thirty second bike ride.
Bus 129 takes us to the Grand Var, and anyone would recognize the place: it’s the mall, and near there is the Asian store, quite good, even by California standards. As needed, we go to Ikea, Carrefour (similar to Costco), and the specialty stores.
For other needs we leave town, but that’s easy. The train station is a fifteen minute walk and we take the train to Toulon (five minutes) or Marseille (over an hour) as needed.
We like La Garde, and have made some friends here, but it’s not perfect. There is no good restaurant, especially some sort of French style bistro; there are these in nearby towns, but not here. Also there is no pool or gym for working out. I ride my bike three times a week to the great pool in Hyeres, but Annie has been frustrated by the lack of gym. There’s no book store or stationary store, which we all like and need. Last, on Sunday the public transportation is considerably reduced, making it harder to get around.
To solve these problems I’ve decided to start renting a car a few times a month, maybe as often as once a week. This will let us get around and get some things done that we might not otherwise be able to do. And for me it will be a reasonable compromise between simplifying life and not subjecting everyone to my preferences.