Other than in Paris—where I suppose if you want to stay somewhere really nice, you just have to put up for paying correspondingly for it—we really lucked out on our rentals for the trip. We’ve determined from this experience that we prefer comfortable country living, with dark night skies, and quiet if any neighbours.

Living in small villages does mean limited privacy: you quickly get to know (by sight anyway) your neighbours on the street, what their daily patterns are, what music they listen to, and even what topics they discuss at the dinner table. In Nézignan, Gaston got in touch with his inner nosy Parker. He’s worse than madame next door. He would perch himself at the table by the window on the second floor and every time there was noise or movement on the street, he would stick his head out and find out what was going on: “Ah, madame’s domestic aid has arrived precisely on time this morning: I wonder what radio station she will be listening to this afternoon?”; “Madame down the street with the baby has just stepped out for her third smoke this morning: she doesn’t look happy today;” “Monsieur across the way slept in this morning: did you hear his big yawn? Oh, and there, you can see him through his second floor window in his PJs, scratching his belly;” “Monsieur, husband of madame with the baby, is out walking their pug. He went to the bakery and is bringing back today’s pain.” For more details on our Nézignan neighbours’ lives and habits, please contact Gaston directly.

Villages also mean church bells. Now, that sounds like it should be a charming and desirable thing to have where you’re vacationing. Well, in Nézignan, the bell would ring each hour twice: once on the hour, and then after a 30-second pause, again—just in case you had missed the dissonate, high-decibel, cracked-bell series of kuh-LANGs the first time round. Fortunately the dead of night also corresponds to the small-numbered hours, so the overall number of kuh-LANGS while you are trying to sleep in the bedroom at the very stuffy back of the 500-year-old, formerly part of the local St-John’s hospice, townhouse that continuously sheds stone dandruff from its walls and ceilings is less than during the day.

The apartment we rented in Paris partly shared a courtyard with a chapel, but they rang the bells only for service on Sunday morning, at a reasonable hour. Gaston who was determinedly sleeping in that day didn’t even hear them. However, the other courtyard that the apartment overlooked was also overlooked by tenants who had a big, noisy party on the Tuesday night/Wednesday A.M., and a dinner party above that part of the apartment on the Monday night. (Dinner starts at 9 A.M. at the earliest in Paris, so this event went on ‘til the wee hours.) That courtyard was also undergoing repairs to its ancient stucco as a result of wet damage, so at 7:30 every weekday morning, the clattering and pounding began. Fortunately, our bedroom, with its mattress that had never been flipped and that had been peed on by previous renters once too often was overlooking the chapel courtyard, so we had sleeping arrangement options: the folded up futon in the living room was far more comfortable, and I usually camped out there at some point during the night—unless the noise quotient was too high.


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