Updated: Mar 19
It is hard for us to believe that we have been living in France for six years. We had to count on our fingers several times before we convinced ourselves that it was true.
In 1999, while we were planning to come to Europe, we thought that we would come over to stay for two years. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time when we were still looking into the future. Looking back into the past, we can see now that after just two years, while we would have been travelers rather than tourists, we would not have experienced what it is like to make a new life in a new country. We didn't know back in 1999 that learning to live in another country was what we wanted to do.
The sun rises, the sun sets, and time passes as gently as the current in the canals. We are learning to live on a barge, we are learning to live in a foreign country, but we have already learned that our future in France will always be full of surprises. Living in a foreign country gives meaning to the phrase, "to learn something new every day." So with this feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, we were delighted to realize that we have been putting down roots over the past six years.
The first clue that we had about our roots was during a car trip to Holland that we made in October. Along the way, we spent the night at a small hotel in Belgium. We had stayed there this past spring, and when we returned this time, the owners remembered us well enough to ask about our summer cruise. We had another great meal in their restaurant and felt comfortable in familiar surroundings.
The next day we drove to a ship chandlery in Holland to buy some things for our barge. We have shopped there over the years, but this time the two brothers who own the store greeted us by name when we walked in. We spent time talking with them about friends we have in common and catching up on their news. That afternoon in this same small Dutch city, some English-speaking tourists asked us directions, and we were amazed that we were able to direct them where they wanted to go.
From Holland, we drove to Paris to spend the night with friends. Driving in Paris felt comfortable instead of scary, and we knew where we were going and how to get there. Once we arrived at our friends' apartment, we felt pretty lucky to find a parking space just down the block and even luckier to spend such a pleasant evening with old friends.
After Paris, we drove to Saint-Symphorien-sur-Saône, our first home in France, to visit Nathalie and her daughter, Nina. Nina was ten when we first arrived in France, and now she is 16. We sat at Nathalie's table, with a fire burning in the fireplace and good food on the table, and we felt at home. Not only did we feel like we were in familiar surroundings, but we also realized that slowly, over the years, we have been putting down roots.
When we returned to Roanne, we looked around with new eyes and saw how deep our roots have become in our winter home. Not only have we made many friends in town, but we have also established relationships with local shopkeepers. During our six years in Roanne, we have searched for and found what we believe to be the best local businesses, and we have become loyal customers.
We have to start with Vincent, of Via Satellite, our TV guy.
We met Vincent in 2000 when he set up our satellite TV and hooked us up with Canal+ to watch Monday Night Football.
Vincent is from Roanne, but he went to college in the U.S., and he loves all things American.
He has been a great friend. He helped us wheel and deal in French when we bought our car, and he is the source of most of our Roanne information, including the best restaurants in town. Everything that we know about French politics, we learned from Vincent.
When we need reliable advice about something French, we call Vincent, and we love when he stops by to say hello because he is just as funny as he is nice.
Every morning we go to La Boulangerie Tixier, on Rue Jean Jaures, where either Mlle Nallet or Mme Tixier sells us our daily bread.
M. & Mme Tixier are a young couple who work long hours to create some of the best bread we have ever tasted.
The happy team at La Petite Normande, also on Rue Jean Jaures, sells chocolates, delicious desserts, Normandie treats, and homemade jams and jellies.
Whenever we go to a French friend's house for lunch or dinner, we stop by this shop to pick up some chocolates to take along as a gift.
When you enter this shop, you are always given a warm and friendly greeting by charming people with big smiles.
Les Halles, our local covered marketplace, is home to the best cheese shop and the best butcher shop in Roanne.
L'Auvergne is our favorite cheese shop. They help you decide by letting you taste, and they sell some excellent local wines too.
Monsieur Seon, the best butcher in town, sells us our Thanksgiving turkey once a year. He has to order it for us because French turkeys don't come onto the market until December.
Monsieur Roussel at La Maison de la Presse sets aside our newspapers once a week, so that we always know what is going on in American sports.
When we bought our car, we had to find auto insurance, and Vincent recommended M. & Mme Frainay and their hard-working dog, Pablo.
They had to wake Pablo up from his nap and help him into the chair to take a family portrait.
In France, you can get good advice from your pharmacist. You can stop in and discuss your symptoms and either get some medication or be told that you should see your doctor.
We go to M. Rabourdin and Mme Covizzi at La Pharmacie Rabourdin on Rue Jean Jaures when we have a cold or need to buy some aspirin. They are always helpful.
There is a plumbing store, Sorofi, just across from the port. Boaters always need some little odds or ends, and they don't have it stock; they will order it for us.
Over the years, Didier has adopted us. He greets us with a big smile, making us feel so special that we almost enjoy plumbing problems.
Having your own "plumbing guy" doesn't happen overnight.
French friends told us years ago that we should go see their "wine guy" Jean-Pierre, but we somehow never got to his shop "Aux Vins de France" until last year. Now we are kicking ourselves because we have learned from experience that Jean-Pierre knows everything there is to know about wine, and he always has just the right bottle of wine to compliment our special dinners.
If you ask for a particular type of wine, he can always find it for you, no matter how obscure. Sometimes he walks over to a shelf and points out several choices. Sometimes he disappears downstairs to his cellar, and once in a while, he goes out the side door to the alley, we don't know where he goes after that, but he always comes back with a good bottle of wine.
At the Sunday Morning market at Place Victor Hugo, we always go to the same chicken booth because they are lovely to us and their chickens are the best.
Our loyalty paid off at Christmas because when we asked for " un gros fermier et une cuisse de dinde," they reached into the cab of the truck and, along with our purchases, they handed us a Christmas present, a bottle of wine! What a pleasant surprise.
Madame Orty, of Couleur Café, au Place du Marché, weighs out our Italian Blend coffee beans.
We have experimented with different blends, but in the end, our order is always the same, "Le Mélange Italien en grains, S.V.P."
One of our favorite fall events is the Salon de Gastronomie in Le Coteau, the town just across the Loire River from Roanne.
In 2004, Pierre and Yvette gave us a sample of Pierre's wine and became friends. Now they deliver one of our favorite wines directly to our barge and stay for a drink.
Our "house wine" is from Robert Serol, a local viticulteur. Recently, we visited Chez Serol for a wine tasting event, and while we were there, we met Phillipe Bailly and his childhood friend Emile.
In 1944, when they were both 20, Phillipe and Emile helped save a downed American pilot. They told us all about their adventures keeping the pilot safe from the Germans. The next day Phillipe called and invited us over to his house to show us the photos and newspaper clippings he had of that event.
He shared his letters from the pilot with us. Phillipe told us how, when he was in his 40's, he decided to find the man whose life he had saved. He finally succeeded after several years of searching, and the letters from the American pilot, his account of the incident, and the photos of their reunions were interesting to read. We felt blessed to be sitting at Phillipe's kitchen table, reliving this French/American World War II chance encounter that had lead to a lasting friendship.
Roanne, you are a charming city with friendly citizens and lovely shops, and we thank you for making us feel so welcome and so much at home.