Along for the ride:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Visitors from Xanadu

I grew up with a Mother who was renowned for her ability to introduce the right people to one another. She always remembered who had what needs or interests and simply went ahead and hooked people up socially. She was networking before the word was invented.
When I had been living in France for a year, I popped home to the U.K. to visit my parents in Cornwall. 
"Popped" is, of course,euphemistic for the seventeen hour trek from Nice; North to Chartres and then East to West across France to Roscoff in Brittany; to catch the car-ferry to Plymouth, and then a couple of hours' driving home to Falmouth. All this in an ancient orange Skoda, which was built when the Czech Republic was still Czechoslovakia! It was a good sturdy car; heavy enough to gather some speed downhill, with the wind behind it; but struggling to escape it's own dark burnt-oil fumes if the terrain levelled off.  I had more stops to purchase oil than gasoline on that trip.
Mum and Dad lived within a few hundred yards of the harbour and customs house quay. The main street was between them and the water. All very picturesque. Mum had grown up there, I was born there and after all my parents' travels it was where they chose to retire. Aunts, Uncles, old boyfriends, children Mum knew from the days when she played piano to accompany the ballet classes' attempts at "good toes-naughty toes" and some saucier characters from the days when she accompanied a Big Band in this Naval Town during and after the war. Friends from the Wine Bar down the street or from the Fishmongers' or Bakers', Mum knew everyone.
I thought nothing of being told that I should introduce myself to the owners of an interesting clothing store around the corner. They were friends with a couple who had taken a caretaker position in the South of France, near St Tropez and I was living/working in France so it made sense. I went into Xanadu and chatted briefly with the owners. I gave them my contact info and that was that.
A couple of months later, back in France, near Toulon, still South but "not as nice as Nice", (Damn that Mistral wind). I received a call from an English speaking person with a problem. They had a broken tractor fan-belt and no idea how to explain that in French to anyone who might procure them a new one. I have to admit to my paucity of vocabulary in this specialized field, at the time. I barely knew about fan-belts in English, let alone French. However my Boyfriend and subsequent Husband, (for better or worse, as I keep reminding myself), was mechanically inclined although he spoke no English.
We decided that we must meet to sort this out and, the rest is history, as we say. The Visitors from Xanadu became lifelong friends, we visited them often, eating wonderful meals together, or chopping wood from fallen chestnut trees in the hilly, beautiful Propriete which they were care-taking. My first taste of chilled Sorrel soup was from sorrel grown in their vegetable patch, tilled by the tractor in question. 
They are retired and back on British soil now, but with a son who is a chef on the Island of Ibiza and a daughter trying to renovate an olive farm in Spain, they still travel often to warmer climes. 
The last time we met face to face was in England, several years ago, when we had to meet outside my parents' house because Dad's early symptoms of Alzheimer's included a certain paranoia and distrust of outsiders and, by then, Mum's Parkinson's was also advanced and she wasn't up to challenging him.
I hope that my parents have not bequeathed their health problems to me. I know that, like Witchcraft, the networking gene has been passed along; not only to me but to my daughter. 


  1. You've done it again... captivating from start to finish... what a story ! Love all your details like the oil burning orange Skoda. And via Roscoff ; I posted several pictures from Roscoff not long ago, if you can find them. And Falmouth... so that's where you hail from ??? My wife and I spent a week in a hotel in Falmouth not all that long ago, to hike the Lizard among other things, I did at least one post about that area too. As for Toulon, my wife lived there for quite some time (the frog is a French Navy brat) and her sister has house there when not out in Tahiti. So a broken fan belt led to life-long friends ? Truth is usually stranger than fiction.

  2. Ah, Owen. You are such a great cheerleader for me. The Skoda was sold to Gypsies in the end. Such poetry.
    I quit school at sixteen, so I have always felt a little pretentious and unsure about my love of words and writing. And yes, I did pay attention to your recent photo-travels.

  3. Interesting, my dad had Parkinson's and my mother Alzheimers! I too hope their generoity ended before passing either on.

  4. I absolutely know why I love your blog: it's amusing, well-written (I do like it when people know their grammar and how to spell their words), the characters have depth and colour and every story comes alive.
    You have a fan here.

  5. Hmm... cheerleader ? Guess I'll have to add that to my CV (or is it a résumé?). Hey, I know, maybe after reading my CV you could hire me to be your full time blog story photographer, to add a few illustrations to your compelling narratives? A picture of an orange Skoda fleeing a big cloud of smoke might have been fun here? :-D

  6. Lovely post,


  7. Yet another great story. Thanks.

  8. Nice post... I have finally made it over to your Blog. I'm sorry I never made it here sooner. You write in such a way I can hear the words - a bit like the start-up and end of The Waltons used to be!

  9. Lovely story. I do like the fan belt story especially. How wonderful to have made such good friends from such a seemingly trivial event.

  10. Hi Dave, funnily enough John-Boy Walton was in an episode of Law & Order that I watched today.( It's been too hot to go outside). His voice is so recognizable.
    Jean, Friends are Everywhere. My daughter always asks if I've been "talking to strangers" again. She is currently employed by one of my "Strangers". I'm not allowed to blog about it though. Shhh!

  11. I know this is totally irrelevant to the post - but your title made me think of the Olivia Newton John film Xanadu: about a Greek Goddess who comes back to earth to promote peace and creating a roller disco (as far as i remember)

    I've often wondered how they sold that to the distributors.

    Fantastic writing b.t.w. :)

  12. Hungry Pixie: I had in the back of my mind that there was a song attached to this mythical land. That would make sense. The shop where my story began was surely named after the Land of Xanadu. 1980'ish?
    p.s. I once went to a roller disco in Neurenberg, Germany. The spare tire was stolen off my bosses' landrover that I was driving at the time. Oh Dear!