Le Jardin de Chats

October 13th

This may sound really silly but not having access to wifi has literally changed the way I live my life.

I feel so separated from the world. I can’t see what everyone ate for lunch today on instagram, or stalk my highschool-friend-that-I-never-talk-to-anymore on Facebook I didn’t think that I kept in too close of contact with people back home, but not even having the option of emailing them or whatever whenever I want to feels really strange.
Five days after our arrival other volunteers arrive. All English speaking so I don’t get very much practice with my French. An Australian girl moves into my room (Millie) and the two boys into Joey’s room. One of the boys is from London (David) and the other is half American/half from Denmark (Dylan).. It’s complicated.
After work dinner is (as always in Europe so it seems) a big event. We take turns playing music and share stories. Our personalities are all  e x t r e m e l y  different so it’s always an interesting dynamic when we’re all together. Joey and I take the same days off and hike/hitch into nearby towns. I do not think that we would be friends in our home countries, but in France we are friends. We bring bruised apples to the miniature horses down the road and tell each other stupid jokes. Life is pretty good.
Every morning I wake up, feed and water the cats (or the chickens/turkeys/and Cassie the sheep), collect any eggs, make Ester (Kate’s mum) her cold pressed juices, and clean up a bit. Then the work is varied..
Day one I picked apples, which involved climbing up a ladder and into an apple tree in my Wellies. It’s more challenging than it sounds, and also very meditative. I filled three whole crates.
The next day I did pest control the organic way. This basically means going through each kale plant (or spinach or whatever) and row by row, leaf by leaf, literally hand picking caterpillars, snails and slugs off of the plants and putting them in a bucket along with any dead leaves or weeds. We then take it all to Compost where the insects can live happily ever after eating all the rotten fruits and veggies they desire.
One day I harvested, and washed all the cucumbers and squash and pumpkins. Another day I cleared out all the vines, weeds, and dead ends left from everything harvested.
I do most of the garden work on my own. It (surprisingly) involves a lot of heavy lifting and at first they would tell me to just let a boy do it, but eventually I somehow got a reputation for being quite strong. Now whenever someone struggles to lift something Kate will say “Rachel could do that with one hand.”
It’s funny how differently I am treated/ how differently I act here compared to home. In Normandy everyone sort of thinks of me to be this flannel-wearing-American-farmhand-tomboy which could not be anymore different than the me who literally used to not own pants because all I wore were dresses and heels. I used to physically not be able to kill a spider from fear and now I pick up French cabin spiders up by their legs with my bare hands (or with a cup if they are ginormous) to set them free outside. Because I’ve developed a weird sort of respect for them and what they do…
Who am I?
And why do I talk about spiders so often?
Normandy me is excited to learn how to use big metal crop tools and prefers to be outside on my own rather than in the kitchen making compote and soy milk with the only other girl. (Though I always have fun when I do as she is the only other person I’ve met so far on this trip with the same affinity for American pop music. We all have our guilty pleasures. Don’t judge.)
Normandy me feels really capable and independent and I like her a lot.

October 16th

I’ve sprained my wrist. It hurts pretty badly and it is super swollen. It looks like someone injected a golfball under my skin. Oh well. At least it’s not broken! I carry on with work as usual being careful not to lift heavy buckets or anything with my left hand. ( Thank God it’s the left hand )
And the pain is pretty bad whenever I move it, but it is otherwise tolerable.
Joey watches vegan juicing documentaries with me and Kate. He also helps me care for Nelson Mandela (the cat) who has broken his leg and has to wear a tiny red cast even though he is allergic to cats. Our communication skills have improved immensely, and I think the other day he tried to hold my hand. Which is sweet..but no.
October 17th
Kate assigns us all the day off as today is Vomutier’s local apple fair. Because Normandie is too far north to grow wine, apples are the region’s claim to fame. And I can say with confidence the apple business is good. Very good. You would think after spending hours on hours picking, sorting, juicing, boiling, and baking apples that one would be incurably sick of them. But we are all excited to drink apple cider and eat apple pastries.
The towns each make a float which they then parade through the small “downtown” of Vomutier. Ticheville’s float is to be christened outside the local church in a small celebration beforehand. Luckily this church is conveniently located directly across the road from the family house. It is a little too large against the modest farm houses and crops of Ticheville.
(It also rings it’s bells exactly one hundred times every morning at seven o’clock, again every afternoon at twelve, and once more at seven at night)
Kate says the church is so large because Sunday mass was important for French families. She says Sundays are still a day they use to spend time together. She says this is also why everything closes on Sunday. Kyle says all the churches in the region are too large in proportion to the population because at the time they were being built the Catholic Church was asserting its political dominance over the rural citizens by literally looming over them. (They argue a lot, but never about anything too serious so it’s fine. I think they just genuinely enjoy arguing.)
We wake up earlier than usual (which would still be late compared to your typical 9-5 schedule) and go outside where we see people walking towards the church. Thinking the celebration was starting an hour earlier than planned and not wanting to miss it we decide to run over in our pajamas and slippers to see the float’s christening and then come back to change before the parade. Joey asks a woman in French if the celebration is happening soon and she says yes and walks into the church.
So natually we follow her.
And that’s the story of how me, two Australians, and a Britt accidentally attended French Sunday mass in our pajamas.
There’s gotta be a joke somewhere in there.
On a normal Sunday only two local women would attend the service. There are only about two hundred and fifty people living in Ticheville after all. The priest, who lives in the house beside ours, is 95. I know he is our neighbor because sometimes we see him burning plastic in his backyard from our upstairs windows. I can also see his clothes line which is weird. (It might just be me, but I find it hard to look a priest in the eye after seeing his undies blowing in the wind.) He has suffered a stroke this year, and apparently even the French locals can hardly understand what he’s saying. He walks impossibly slowly and I can’t be sure but I’m almost positive he forgot what he was saying several times during mass because there were many long abrupt silences. When he passes there will be no new priest to conduct the regular Sunday mass. The church will become a ceremonial spot, but the bells will still ring one hundred times twice a day. During the service I try to make out the French words I know while avoiding eye contact with the locals. As today is a special occasion, there are about twenty people in Mass today all dressed in their Sunday best. Not nearly enough people to fill the church, but a nice turnout, you know, statistically. Joey tries to hide his house slippers under the pew and Alissa zips her jacket over her polka dot pajama top. Luckily, I am wearing my winter coat which has a few euros in it for when the collection pot comes around as it is not passed but rather a women stands directly in front of you holding it out until you put money into it.
The priest has a deep but soft voice. It echoes against the high ceilings and through the unused pews. The walls are an inoffensive shade of pink with dark gold, cream, and teal details. It is obvious that everything has been painstakingly hand painted. And it is truly beautiful. The statues on the wall are chipped and mismatched, the alter at the front of the church is extremely ornate and gaudy and out of place. This church has character and I think it is one of the most unique and beautiful Catholic churches I’ve ever been to. Towards the end of a very somber mass my eyes start to droop. Even in the uncomfortable wooden pews I feel my head start to lull. Suddenly and faintly I hear music in the background. Everyone in the church is in the middle of a group prayer all quietly and monotonously chanting in unison as the unmistakable tune of YMCA grows louder and louder in the background. Sounds like the marching band is arriving…
Above the bowed heads of the twenty catholics in Ticheville, the music becomes incredibly loud as the band changes the song to “poker face” by Lady Gaga. An older woman in front of me starts to sway jovially to the music with her head still bowed. Several people notice and try to stifle their laughter as best as they can (including me), but the priest remains unaffected with his head bowed, eyes closed, and hands clasped together in front of him. The whole situation was bizarre and ridiculously comical.
When we exit, a small crowd has gathered below the tombstones in front of the church. There is a marching band with members of all ages playing a funny random assortment of tunes. The Ticheville float is of famous Normandy landmarks made out of paper mache and other household items. There are Lego people stationed on a famous bridge as construction workers. There are fake billboards comprised of slightly inappropriate lingerie ads by the makeshift beach where more Lego people are playing volleyball. The whole thing is decorated with strings of garland made from real apples. There is a cider booth with local ciders and cakes. People in the town introduce themselves in French. (Even when I explain in French that I don’t speak the language they continue to talk at me in fast jovial manner as if my not speaking french is some sort of practical joke or something)
After the short gathering, we head back to the family house to get properly ready for the day. Around noon we pile into the family car and Kate gives us chocolate. Kate and Kyle like smooth modern electronic music like Alt J. So we listen to this as we roll past low hills of apple orchards and mid-evil castles and WWII memorials.
The parade at the apple fair was filled with lots of music and traditional Normandy costume and dance. There was a booth displaying all the different types of apples grown in the region and their names. Kyle and I teamed up in bumper cars against Millie and David which was good fun. As usual we ended our stay with coffee, herbal tea, and biscuits at an outside cafe. That night we played Articulate (at which I’m proud to say I’m getting better), spoke in French (at which I think I’m actually getting worse), drank wine (at which I am not too modest to say that I am an expert) and turned in especially late.
Speaking of especially late, I need to go fill my hot waterbottle so that I can warm up my bed before I go to sleep.
So this is the end of this post.
Til next time!
Bonne Nuit!
Til next time..
Bonne Nuit

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