After a top-speed, swerving ride over a mountain, interupted by a flock of sheep, we stay somewhere in the Alps-Martimes.
The house was once the home of a medieval knight and has been beautifully restored.
The garden is full of raspberries and rose bushes, and there is a little white dog. At first glance it is a beautiful place. The family here has a teenage son who is home-schooled, so they like to welcome families with other teenagers.
We only spent a few hours in the evening with the whole family at first. The father and son left very early the next morning for a mountain bike race, so the first two days are spent with the Lady of the House, who puts us to work.
Quick meals of just bread and vegetables, then back out to weed the raspberry patches and clip huge, vicious brambles away from the fence line. I get the feeling she has been saving this work all spring for our visit.
Teenager complains his muscles are withering from lack of protein. We have the sausages we stocked up on in Nice, but they won’t last the whole week.
We get two hours in the afternoon to rest and then back to work again until dinner and washing the dishes. It’s frustrating as I need time to struggle with the clunky and useless SNCF website to find a way to our next destination. Feels somewhat like serfdom. Teenager terminally bored. Actually we are both not having any fun.
On second evening father and son return. Son very sick. Now there is plague. We escape to garden and talk about disappearing in the middle of the night and hiking back to the train station. Go inside and ask for permission for a walk instead. Lady of the House gives us a 40 minute curfew, so we hurry away.
The countryside is beautiful. Goat bells ring in the distance. Teenager inspired to hike off road. We climb down a steep hill into a meadow full of flowers and wild strawberries, but Teenager wants to press on towards nearby cliff.
Says staying here inspires him to find a cliff to jump off. We cross a little stream and climb up a very steep rocky incline.
Teenager leaves me behind to struggle and disappears up ahead. I worry about getting separated and lost but then I hear sounds of Teenager sliding down mountain and grabbing at thorn bushes. Lots of swearing.
I check the time and it’s time to head back. I climb back over the creek and up to the meadow while Teenager slides from thorn bush to thorn bush.
He makes it back eventually with little pine needles sticking out if his arm, and we are late. Still it is the most fun we’ve had here so far. We powerwalk back up the mountain road while Teenager makes jokes about how slow, old, and fat I am.
The Lady of the House sets us to work again in the garden. Teenager is tackling a huge tangle of vines with tiny clippers. I am given what looks like a toy maddock and told to chip away at the uncultivated land until it is “soft”. I work on the tangle of weeds, huge clods of clay and stones until I think I have done a pretty good job, but the Lady of the House points out the little grass roots that must ALL be removed.
I pull one up and toss it in the pile with other grass and roots I pulled earlier, but Lady of the House gives a screech of horror. No, they must be saved one by one in a special pile. It feels like a task out of a Grimm’s fairy tale, or maybe the Greek myths. I could be at home working in a garden that feeds my family, without anyone hysterical hovering over me, and I could be eating meat, MEAT!!!! Instead of plain bread and pasta and watery vegetable soup.
It’s not the work I mind so much as the pure toil of it, and the extreme hair-trigger of the Lady of the House, who never herself does the tasks she sets. For example, there were issues with garden today when i went to water the huge Swiss chard plants the she had me bare-root transplant into sunny parts of the garden the day before (her idea). All of them looked like kale chips, so I start throughly watering them.
I have watered two when Lady of the House arrives and starts yelling because the leaves are wet. She lives in fear of sun scald. I water my plants this way all the time in Florida and they are fine, but I can tell that when these finally die from being transplanted it will be ALL MY FAULT, even though the leaves were actually crispy before I watered them. At this point, there’s not much else the sun can do except light them on fire.
In the evening only the two plants I watered incorrectly are still alive. Hmmm.
I am not sure if I can do this all summer.
I contemplate the option of camping for seven more weeks while the Lady of the House tells me stories of other wwoofers who slept in too late and didn’t work hard enough. Our rising time of 8:30 to work at 9 until 12:30, two hours rest and then back work until 6 or 7pm is almost unacceptable. One fellow apparently lost tons of weight in just two weeks she brags, due to the meagre diet and hard work, and one woman she caught red-handed raiding the fridge in the middle of the night. Songs from Oliver Twist get stuck in my head.
Yesterday afternoon another wwoofer arrives, a French guy. The Lady of the House seems to like him a lot. She spends the afternoon chatting with him in the garden while I move heavy buckets full of dirt up the mountain. The next morning I find evidence of a fried egg while I am washing everyone’s breakfast dishes (though it might have been for the dog), and there are sausages for dinner.
We are not fond of new wwoofer from first. He keeps an eye on us and turns toadie to complain Teenager left off work, when really he went to do L of the H’s bidding somewhere else.
L of H gives me a big lecture, complaining Teenager is on his phone too much, and not socializing with her son enough, who has been extremely sick the whole time and has the personality of a pet rock. She gives me a loud, judgemental lecture on my parenting. Enough is enough. We make plans to escape.