This time last year was rough. The European dream was, honestly, not going as wonderfully as we had hoped. We had traveled so much we’d exhausted ourselves. We were nearly homeless on more than one occasion. We had lived in an apartment with cockroaches, used so much cockroach spray on them and our kitchen countertops we became ill, and, still, they continued to sneak back into the house every night in droves. We were at our wits’ ends with trying to navigate French bureaucracy and passive-aggressive attitudes. And my solo practice had truly and finally taken off, seeing me working all day and night long, frustrating the Frenchman, and rightly so, when I slept during daylight hours only to wake up, fire up the laptop and continue to work and have conference calls with clients while he tried to write research reports, watch television, or sleep in our tiny, 17 m2 studio apartment. I remember the Frenchman’s step-mother telling me she could tell when in November work started to pick up (and it has not slowed down since) because I became quiet on the email, Facebook, and blogging fronts. If anyone else noticed the same, that was why.
By the end of November we were both simply exhausted but had already, two months before, rented a car to get out of town for a long weekend as the Frenchman had a break at the university for some reason or another. We decided to give one more adventure a chance instead of staying at home and pouting but as these things always happen, of course, that resulted in significant frustration: as it turned out, after we had walked an hour in the direction of where we thought the rental agency was, it was, in fact, located on the other street with the same name, which required an hour-long return walk, a metro and a bus ride, and then another long walk down a busy highway. Finally, car secured, we were notified by our landlord that, no, we could not park it in the parking lot as all the spaces were “reserved” (not true,) so we had to pay more to park the car in a downtown public parking garage than it cost to rent it for the weekend. Our moods sour, we decided to head off the next day on our adventures instead.
After we finally got into the car we discussed that initially, our plans had been to go to Andorra, located just a few hours from Toulouse where we were based at the time, but we were both too weary to deal with the long, pre-Christmas lines into the tax-free mini country. Staying closer to home, we thought we would head to several castles I had chosen in our <<Guide Vert>> and do some hiking, with the fresh air doing us good. Shamefully, I cannot remember which castles were on our schedule as we did not make it to them. Instead, as we started driving towards the mountains we noticed the temperature dropping, and, soon, the roads were snow-covered, a possibility we had not considered. “The sign says it’s only 5 more kilometers,” I begged, determined to make the hike. “Um, the last three cars we passed were people pulled over putting snow chairs on their cars,” the Frenchman countered. Mere kilometers away from the foot of the trail we turned back, slipping and sliding back down the mountain.
Coming to a stop at a country intersection we noticed another sign pointing the way to a different castle. “Let’s try that one,” I pleaded. And so we did, barely making it into the tiny, hibernating village of Roquefixade. There was no other soul in town save for the owner of the gite shoveling out her drive, and, in places, the snow was up to our knees. Determined to not let the day get past us we wandered around the shuttered city and headed up the trail towards the castle, eventually giving up when we saw it was located on a steep, rocky mountain top and barely visible through the fog. The Frenchman built his own mini-castle out of snow, and we hurled snowballs at each other at the base of the mountain fortress for what seemed like hours until we collapsed, breathless, into the snow, howling at the blizzard swirling around us and letting out the frustration of our first few months in Europe.
Cold, soaked, and rejuvenated we eventually rose, slipping down the mountain silently, eventually coming upon a group of parents and their children with makeshift sleds who thought the bleak day was perfect for some outdoor activity. The British novelist J.B. Priestly once wrote that “the first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” Remembering our day in the snowy Pyrenees is like that. Rolled and tumbled in the fresh snow like children we returned home happier and less agitated.