After leaving Lyon, we caught a train and then a bus, deep into the country-side, to visit the French family who hosted my sister on her exchange last year. It was exciting to see the family again, to be welcomed into their home, and to be in the same space my sister had occupied and lived in so many months before.
The countryside was beautiful, somehow both wild and tame. In Australia, there are so many areas of deep wilderness that the corners of forest tucked into the patchwork of French farmland seemed cultivated and constrained by comparison. Perhaps it’s the numerous tales of enchanted forests, pine-needle carpets, fairies in oaktrees and the coming of Spring to Narnia, which I heard as a child, that cast a storybook light on these European woodlands: I couldn’t help but feel transported into a real-world version of my childhood sterocasted construction of “forest”, something so much more green, shaded and condensed than the various gumtree scrubs that cover of much of Australia.
As it turned out, the cool, damp soil conditions of the forest were a haven for critters… including a magnificent, orange limace– a slug! A more pleasant finding awaited us when we turned back towards the house: roadside strawberries. As large as a thumbnail, sweet and succulent, we scouted them out in the undergrowth along the curb- a quest rendered much harder since the bordering grass (and strawberry bushes) had been cut and mown.
It was lovely to spend time with the family, to go swimming and jump on their trampoline, to accompany some of them to the next village to go to the dentist’s, to help out with the cooking… staying here was like a holiday within our holiday, and we soaked up every moment. We met the Swiss exchange student and their young Ukranian friend who were staying with them at the time. It was great to laugh together, learn about their homelands and to be able to do so all using French! It was so lovely to be welcomed into this home and to visit this family and, for a short moment, to be part of them. I have been inspired to make sure that I am, thoughout my life, a hospitable and inviting person: in the way I meet people and in the way I open my house (or whatever living space I occupy) up to others.