It was six days before I could return, admittedly somewhat unenthusiastically, to wielding a pickaxe and chisel to finish the roadside garden bed. For a week now, it had resembled a side by side, before and after illustration.
The days have been hot so this particular Saturday morning I rose and was outside by 6:45am when it was still quite crisp and cool out. I finished trenching and laying the stone by mid-morning without seeing a soul. Using the pickaxe of an obliging neighbor, I began breaking up the soil bed into fist-sized "rocks" which I then pummeled with the stone mallet into powder.
Sweeping up the residual dirt from the gutter, I raked it into the beds and quickly planted my long-suffering, potbound petunias and gazanias. Mulching and soaking wrapped things up. I stepped back to examine my handiwork. What a difference. And what a relief it was finally finished.
I left Philippe's tools propped up against his doorway and walked back to my house where three of my neighbors had gathered, speaking softly to each other and pointing out various features of the new bed. The French here, I find, are disarmingly forthright in their curiosity and quick to share with you their approval of (or confusion with) any changes you make to your property. I had gotten a generous share of heads shaking in puzzlement when I'd first laid the plastic down 18 months earlier. Admittedly, it wasn't attractive, half black and half grey, weighted down with rocks and chunks of concrete breeze block I'd found discarded in my cave. And my neighbors really couldn't be sure if this was how I was going to leave it.
As I approached, one neighbor turned and gave me a broad smile. I caught about 20 percent of her enthusiastic chatter. I tilted my head at her and said, "Mais, vous preferez la plastique, oui?" She gave me a startled look. "Non, non!" (After all, I am a foreigner. One can't be too careful.) I grinned. They laughed.
My comprehension of French has broken through a longtime plateau recently and I've begun catching more and more words. I followed perhaps 60 percent of the overall conversation (difficult enough when just one person is talking, never mind several) as they speculated how each type of plant or flower I'd added would do in this spot that really only gets morning sun and how heat tolerant they would be, since it seems to be gearing up to be a hotter summer than usual, if present conditions are anything to go by.
I admitted that I wasn't sure how the gazanias would do and that I might have to move them. I used the verb "déménager" which I'd learned in French class means to move. More startled expressions. I was moving? No, no, I assured them, I love Martizay and have no intentions of moving at this point. "Deplacer," I was told, was the verb to use when relocating my flowers. As they generously dispensed advice on both the garden and speaking French, I felt reassured by their friendliness and their tangible disappointment at the thought that I might leave our charming little hamlet here on Chambon.
I glanced down at my little stone border and thought of how this minor project to prettify my little garden had involved no less than seven of my neighbors who stopped by to share advice, tools or just plain curiosity.
It's nice to feel welcome.