Friday, November 17, 2006

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

10am break: wine, cheese, bread, coffee.

The past couple weeks have opened my eyes to a few things and potentially set in motion events that would lead to my leaving France earlier than expected. I’ll start with the highlights… The pictures you’re seeing are from an olive oil estate. Marie offered my help this week to a friend of hers who owns the operation. I was treated graciously, and although I was charged the same amount of money per day for food and lodging ($25), I felt like I was actually getting what I paid for. By this I mean the food was excellent, I slept in a bedroom with heat, and my bathroom actually had a toilet. What’s more, the entire family went out of their way to make me feel at ease and comfortable in the new surroundings. I enjoyed the three days and nights I spent at their house very much, and realized how, uh, unaccommodating my situation at Pech Laurier has become.


Harvesting olives is an interesting operation. We laid large nets out beneath the trees and commenced to “comb” the trees with gyrating pitchforks made of carbon fiber and powered with rechargeable batteries. After the nets became too heavy to easily move from tree to tree, we’d empty them into crates. After all of the crates were full, we’d empty the crates into large bins by dumping the olives out of the crates four feet above the bins, and running an air blower to get rid of the leaves that were mixed with the olives. We did this for three days, and I left Wednesday night with 180€ in cash (this number will be important below).

The house at sunset.

I would have worked the rest of the week, but on Wednesday night Joel arrived to visit for a couple days while en route to Prague. I picked him up at the train station in Carcassonne and we grabbed some food before driving back to the estate. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great during his short visit. It was windy and cool at the sea, so we spent Thursday afternoon in Narbonne drinking beer, visiting historical sites, and just hanging out.

Joel’s timing couldn’t have been better because I’ve been struggling with a few things lately – namely estate politics and lack of friends. I received my second paycheck Thursday. For one (1) month, I grossed 1350€. After deductions for “food,” electricity, and French taxes, I netted 440€. That’s for 31 days. 440€. That’s not cool. Also, because the estate is isolated in the country and I don’t have regular access to a vehicle, I’m beginning to feel the strain of having no personal connections. It’s nice to talk to people on the phone and online, but spending time with Joel reminded me of how much more fun it is to share experiences with people you care about. While I knew that I wouldn’t be living in the city, I think I underestimated the isolation of my situation, and that has left me considering my options for the next three months I’m scheduled to spend in france. The first is to go to Prague if I think I can find a job. I already have friends in Prague with many connections to other English speakers. It’s beautiful city, and the cost of living is low. The second is to work the wine harvest in New Zealand, where people speak English and I’d have a better chance at actually developing new relationships with the locals. The last option is to stick it out here ‘till March, and re-evaluate at that time.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining too much. Having the chance to live and work in france, while learning the language and making a little bit of money is a wonderful experience. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to see the country and learn about wine in a country steeped in such history. However, I also feel that I’ve been mislead regarding my living situation, and in some instances, flat lied to. Spending time with another family for three days – one that treated me well – showed me that my situation is less than ideal. Objectively, I would feel the same in a similar situation regardless of physical location. Needless to say, I have certainly learned a thing or two about clarifying details beforehand.

1 comment:

Betty said...

You know Fitzy,
Your situation reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons where Bart is sent to France and works at a vineyard and gets treated like crap...I hope everything works out for you. Its definitely not ideal when you don't understand the language and make a case for yourself. What about that olive oil place